CTD ties rise in extremism to proliferation of radical madrasas

Claiming that the proliferation of radical madrasas across Pakistan is a major factor contributing to the rise in extremism in the country, Sindh’s top counter terrorism official has called for reforming the seminary system.

Counter Terrorism Department provincial chief Addl IGP Sanaullah Abbasi, who also holds a PhD in law, told The News that the debate on madrasa reforms in Pakistan gained prominence in the aftermath of the Peshawar Army Public School terrorist attack on December 16, 2014.

He said the investigation into the assault revealed that all of the attackers had stayed at a mosque before carrying out the massacre. “Though all madrasas are not involved in supporting terrorism, it is a fact that the majority of terrorist leaders and ideologues are products of different seminaries.”

To support his claim, he mentioned the former chiefs of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, as well as the current head of al Qaeda’s South Asian branch, Maulana Asim Umar.

He also said Maulana Samiul Haq’s Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasa in Nowshera district’s Akora Khattak city was the alma mater of the Afghan Taliban’s top leadership, including its former chief Mullah Mohammed Omar. He stressed that reforming madrasas into centres of excellence and learning, which promote moderation and tolerance of other faiths, was critical for combating religious extremism in Pakistan.

“Madrasa networks and mosques are the main constituencies of religio-political parties, jihadi groups and sectarian militant organisations,” he said, adding that sectarian groups and religio-political parties look towards seminaries to expand their support bases.

Quoting WikiLeaks, he said that annually around $100 million (approximately Rs10.5 billion) are transferred to Deobandi and Ahle Hadith madrasas in South Punjab from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab Gulf states.

Abbasi said that in the recent years two attempts had been made to reform and regulate madrasas in Pakistan. “In 2008 the then president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf issued the Madrasa Regulation Ordinance. He built on the 2002 ordinance to bring madrasas under regulation and state oversight.”

He said the purpose was twofold: register with the government and teach curricula that did not preach militancy, hate speech or sectarianism. “In 2010 the Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition government signed an agreement with the Ittehad Tanzeemul Madaris Pakistan (ITMP), an umbrella organisation of madrasa oversight boards.”

He added that the agreement carried provisions to recognise the five ITMP madrasa boards and link them to the education ministry through an act of the parliament. “In return, the agreement prohibited madrasas from publishing literature that promotes militancy or sectarianism and teach a more inclusive curriculum.”

He lamented that the agreement could not be presented to the parliament for legislation due to bureaucratic bottlenecks. “To this date the oversight of madrasas and their activities remains in limbo.”

He said that despite the fact that the majority of madrasas had registered with the government, they were reluctant to cede their autonomy to the government.

Registration of madrasas and bringing them under the direct control of government institutions is a litmus test for the state’s resolve to overcome the challenges of radicalisation and religious extremism, he added.

National Internal Security Policy

Addl IGP Abbasi said that on February 24, 2014, the government had approved the country’s first National Internal Security Policy (NISP), which adopted a five-pronged counterterrorism approach: dismantling, containing, preventing, educating and reintegrating.

He said the NISP had given Pakistan the institutional structure that was required to manage the competing demands of different security and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) for countering terrorism.

“The policy provides a clear road map for the mandates and roles of different LEAs for counterterrorism, but it has not come into effect as yet.” According to the NISP, he added, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), which was created in 2009, was the central agency to coordinate and implement counterterrorism operations in Pakistan.

“However, Nacta is still a body on paper, without a functioning head or secretariat. Moreover, NISP is an ambitious policy; implementing it in Pakistan’s divisive political culture is not an easy task.”

Protection of Pakistan Act 2014

The counterterrorism official said the National Assembly had passed the Protection of Pakistan Act in July 2014, adding that the bill provided the Pakistani security forces with additional powers to fight terrorism.

He said the bill authorised the security forces to shoot at sight as well as to arrest suspects and search houses without search warrants, adding that the bill adopted the approach of “guilty until proven innocent”, putting the burden of proof on the accused to prove his innocence against the charges levelled against him.

“Several civil society and human rights organisations fear that such a sweeping body of law will turn Pakistan into a police state. Pakistan’s history is replete with examples where such laws have been abused to victimise the opponents.”

So, he admitted, there was a fear that in the future authorities could use the bill for their own vested interests. “This is why the bill has been enacted as a special set of laws for two years. At the end of two years its status will be re-evaluated to see if it should be implemented further or not.”

Contemporary terrorism

Abbasi said contemporary terrorism evolved at an astounding pace. “The terrorist groups in Pakistan keep changing their recruitment, attack and propaganda strategies with time and space. They are innovative and adaptive to changing circumstances with tremendous regenerative capacity.”

Those involved in counterterrorism have to be equally innovative with their preventive and pre-emptive policies, he added. “To be successful, counterterrorism practitioners have to be two steps ahead of the terrorists.”

He said CVE (common vulnerabilities & exposures) allowed counterterrorism practitioners to keep pace with innovative and ever-changing terrorist strategies, if not get ahead of them. “Extremism in Pakistan is certainly not confined to religiously inspired militancy and terrorism only; it is prevalent in society at all levels.”

A large segment of the Pakistani society, especially the youth, is vulnerable to extremist propaganda, he added. “The ongoing narrowly focused de-radicalisation interventions in Pakistan will gradually lose their efficacy, as long as a moderate environment hostile to terrorism and militancy is not created.”

He stressed a dire need to build community resilience to immunise society against extremism. “At a broader level, without improvement in governance and economic and security situation, CVE efforts will have a minimal impact.”