Madrassa networks linked with militant groups have emerged as a major challenge for Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations. For instance, the police in Rawalpindi and Islamabad have reported that the outlawed Tehreek I Taliban e Pakistan (TTP) received strong support from certain Deobandi religious seminaries.
Pakistani media have also reported how religious seminaries in the capital city were actively supporting TTP by acting as intermediaries and guarantors between terrorists and their victims of extortion. Other madrassas have been active participants in sectarian conflicts.
Madrassa and mosque mapping and their regulation are important components of both the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) and the National Action Plan (NAP). The present government has announced its intention to formulate a comprehensive policy to regulate madrassas while introducing constructive curricula reforms and also to curb foreign funding of select religious seminaries. At least five hundred madrassas were identified as spreading extremism and accepting funds from abroad. More than ten thousand were asked in December 2013 to register with the federal Ministry of Education. These steps, coupled with NISP and NAP proposals, have invited severe backlash from right-wing religious parties. However, coercive measures are not akin to instituting sound legal and regulatory arrangements. The reaction thus far has been to arrest and round up suspects rather than improve the regulatory environment.
Government statistics put the number of registered religious seminaries at 22,052 across the country, an estimate on the lower side given that most madrassas are not registered or monitored. The Pakistan Madrassa Education Board (PMEB) was formed in 2001 with the objective of modernizing traditional religious seminaries and countering extremism. In June 2002, the Deeni Madaris (Voluntary Registration and Regulation) Ordinance 2002 was approved. This new law mandated madrassas and religious schools to register with the PMEB and to have their sources of funding monitored; anyone found teaching sectarian hatred in a madrassa could be jailed for two years. Registration has stalled, and the PMEB has been dormant in recent years; the Wafaq-ul-Madaris confederation of madrassas has historically resisted regulation efforts. Recent decisions by the Ministry of Interior indicate that madrassa regulation will be postponed because religious lobbies in the country oppose it. This is a blow to counterterrorism policy implementation in its early stages.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI government has reversed the reforms of 2006
After the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, curricula development and reform has become a provincial subject. Sindh has made the most progress in reforming its curriculum. Ethics teaching has been introduced in grades 2 and up, and new textbooks with reformed and progressive curriculum have been printed and are now used in teaching. In Punjab, the provincial education department has begun revising its curriculum, but the job is far from complete. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI government has reversed the earlier reforms of 2006 and reintroduced materials related to jihad in its current curriculum initiative. A coalition partner in the province government, the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami, is pushing its goals of a religious-oriented curriculum and in so doing is creating a major controversy in the province. Because it has no textbook board of its own, Balochistan teachers use Punjab textbooks, though curriculum development is still carried out by the provincial government.
The NISP and NAP both highlight the importance of rebuilding public narratives that challenge the interpretations of Islam popularized by militant organizations, but little progress in this regard has been made. Two areas where resetting of the narratives is required pertain to mainstream views: that terrorism is a reaction to policies of the West and that it is a result of interference from neighboring India. On both counts, there is little evidence of any substantial headway despite the pronouncements of policymakers.
Both counterterrorism policy frameworks – NAP and NISP – are silent on how to undertake key reforms related to educational and religious curricula. Most of these policy areas now fall under provincial domains, and the NISP overlooks the fact that federal government can no longer launch changes on provincial subjects. The need is urgent for platforms such as the constitutional Council of Common Interests to articulate this and agree on the direction of reform for interprovincial consistency and outcomes that are consistent with internal security and counterterrorism objectives.
A coherent narrative on militancy, the Taliban, and ongoing antiterrorism efforts in the country and the region is vital. At present, what gives rise to terrorism is not clearly identified, leading to disarray in responses and even greater confusion. Military and civilian leadership—including all political parties—need to end endemic doublespeak on issues such as talks or fighting with the TTP and the nature of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. The perception of terrorism as a reaction to US policies or Indian interference needs to be given up because it has misled millions of Pakistanis. Distinctions between militant groups—pro-state and anti-state—accomplish little other than to erode people’s trust in state institutions, obfuscate policy response, and strengthen militants fighting the state.
Excerpted from ‘Charting Pakistan’s Internal Security Policy’ – a special report by United States Institute of Peace, available at http://www.usip.org/publications/2015/05/13/charting-pakistan-s-internal-security-policy