about icg 
  Latin America 
  Middle East 
  by region 
  by date 
  by keyword 
  media releases 
  articles/op. eds 
  media contacts 
contact us 
donate to icg 

 home  programs  asia  south asia  pakistan
Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
For more information about viewing PDF documents, please click here.

Pakistan: Madrasas, Extremism And The Military


In its new role as key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Pakistan’s military government has toned down many policies that previously fostered militancy and religious extremism within the country and internationally. Action against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and home-grown sectarian terrorists are examples. But the military’s confrontation with its former religious allies is likely, at best, a short-term response compelled by circumstances and foreign pressure.

It is doubtful whether the military government has the intent or the will to set Pakistani society on a sustainable course that would lead to political pluralism and religious tolerance. On a key test – reform of madrasas, Pakistani religious schools that breed extremism of many hues – the military government thus far has acted weakly.

Madrasas provide free religious education, boarding and lodging and are essentially schools for the poor. About a third of all children in Pakistan in education attend madrasas. These seminaries run on public philanthropy and produce indoctrinated clergymen of various Muslim sects. Some sections of the more orthodox Muslim sects have been radicalised by state sponsored exposure to jihad, first in Afghanistan, then in Kashmir. However, the madrasa problem goes beyond militancy. Over a million and a half students at more than 10,000 seminaries are being trained, in theory, for service in the religious sector. But their constrained worldview, lack of modern civic education and poverty make them a destabilising factor in Pakistani society. For all these reasons, they are also susceptible to romantic notions of sectarian and international jihads, which promise instant salvation.

The Musharraf government has pledged, as many previous Pakistani governments have done, to change the status of madrasas and integrate them into the formal education sector. It has also pledged to reform the madrasa system as part of its anti-terrorism actions in fulfilment of UN Security Council Resolution 1373. However, these pledges have not been backed by decisive action or a credible plan to remake the system within a reasonable timeframe.

A madrasa reform law is in the works that would regulate the schools. It would provide for changes in the curriculum, registration and monitoring of finances but even the name of the draft – the Deeni Madaris (Voluntary Registration and Regulation) Ordinance 2002 – gives some sense of the lack of commitment to reform.

The bill does not envisage real intervention in the madrasa system because the clergy is opposed. Madrasas will instead be asked to submit to regulation voluntarily, and the law proposes no mechanism of enforcement or punishments for violations. Madrasas would simply be asked to comply with the new curriculum.

Alongside this very gentle prodding, the government is offering madrasas some carrots for good behaviour: free Islamic and modern textbooks and other rewards, including salaries for teachers. Most madrasas have shrugged off both aspects of the plan and have said they will resist any attempts to secularise education. The religious organisations already banned by the government continue to run schools and to produce militant literature.

Both the clergy and independent observers see the government’s plans as measures aimed at assuaging international opinion. In fact, the government’s apparent policy shift represents not real change but rather continuity of the military’s alliance with the United States and its patron-client relationship with the Pakistani clergy.

U.S. support gives international legitimacy to the military’s role in Pakistani politics. A madrasa sector the autonomy of which remains untouched and that is not forced to reform is unlikely to confront the military. On the contrary, the clergy remains a vocal supporter of a politically dominant military and its India policy. This explains why the government’s madrasa reforms are cosmetic and lack substance, legal muscle or an intent to institutionalise long-term change.

Madrasas have a long history in Pakistan and in Muslim societies generally. They serve socially important purposes, and it is reasonable for a government to seek to modernise and adapt rather than eliminate them. International assistance to Pakistani education, especially from Western donors, however, should focus heavily on rebuilding a secular system that has been allowed to decay for three decades. Any international assistance for the government’s madrasa reform project should be closely tied to proof that it represents a genuine commitment to promote moderate, modern education.

Musharraf’s clampdown on foreigners linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda shows that international pressure can work. It is what will determine if and when the government will enact tangible madrasa reform. International acceptance of the military’s domestic manoeuvres in exchange for support in the war on terrorism risks more extremism in the not distant future that will be hard to contain. Wavering by important international actors, especially the U.S., will not only increase extremist threats to Pakistan but eventually also undermine global security and stability.


To The Government Of Pakistan:

1. Establish a madrasa regulatory authority immediately, to be headed by the interior minister, that should:

(a) carry out a comprehensive survey of the madrasa sector for purposes of mandatory registration and classification within six months;

(b) assist the Pakistan Madrasa Education Board in implementing and monitoring curriculum and financing reforms;

(c) coordinate efforts of the various government departments involved in the reform process; and

(d) work as the focal point for liaison with the clergy, donors, law-enforcing agencies and international organisations.

2. Institute curriculum reforms for madrasas within six months that ensure:

(a) vocational training programs are included;

(b) more time is allotted for modern subjects in the new teaching schedule; and

(c) recognition of madrasa certificates and degrees is conditional upon adherence to the new teaching regime.

3. Immediately close all madrasas affiliated with banned militant organisations and prosecute their leaders under existing criminal laws if they are involved in incitement to violence.

4. Require all madrasas at the time of registration to:

(a) publish annual income, expenditure and audit reports;

(b) declare their assets and sources of funding; and

(c) disassociate from any militant activity or group.

5. Create a nation-wide Financial Intelligence Unit, as a subsidiary of the banking regulatory authority, to prevent money laundering in the formal banking sector and to curb the hundi system and other informal financial transactions.

6. Keep strict tabs on foreign students who seek admission to Pakistani madrasas and permit their enrolment only if such religious education is not available in their home countries or they have otherwise been carefully screened by both their home authorities and the appropriate Pakistani government authorities.

7. Ensure that madrasa reform is not confined to urban areas but also covers small towns and villages.

To International Donors:

8. Hold the Pakistani government to its commitments to madrasa reform, and in particular in particular urge it to:

(a) close madrasas linked to banned extremist groups;

(b) establish a regulatory authority under the interior minister with sufficient powers to overcome clerical resistance;

(c) institute mandatory rather than voluntary registration, curriculum reform and financial control mechanisms;

(d) end involvement of intelligence agencies in the madrasa sector; and

(e) implement parliamentary oversight as soon as possible.

9. Provide financial assistance to help Pakistan upgrade its secular education sector at all levels, with emphasis on vocational training.

10. Provide financial assistance to government programs to reform the madrasa education sector but only if the government closes madrasas affiliated with banned groups, makes it obligatory for all madrasas to disclose their sources of income and declare dissociation from any militant activity or group, and otherwise carries out the reforms described above. Funding for reform projects should be suspended if the government fails to do so. International financial institutions providing, or intending to provide, financial assistance for madrasa reform should also make their grants conditional on the above criteria.

11. Recognising that some donors may have legal or constitutional difficulties with direct support of religious education, they should consider supporting a number of specific projects, including:

(a) training new madrasa teachers to teach a wider range of secular subjects;

(b) producing madrasa textbooks for modern subjects; and

(c) supporting civil society monitoring of government performance in madrasa reform and on other education issues.

To The United Kingdom And Saudi Arabia And The Other Gulf States:

12. Publicly identify charities and NGOs suspected of links with militants.

To The G-8 Countries, Especially The United Kingdom And United States:

13. Implement fully the eight special anti-terrorism financing recommendations of the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering and urge Pakistan to adopt legislation that meets these standards.

14. Launch, with the help of domestic Islamic organisations, a public awareness campaign to dissuade expatriate Muslims from funding jihadi madrasas and to dispel misperceptions that Islamic education per se is a target of the anti-terror financing laws.

Islamabad/Brussels 29 July 2002


copyright privacy sitemap