March 2002 News

US allowed growth of seminars of bleed-Russia strategy

15 March 2002
The Friday TImes
Iqbal Khattak

Lahore: During the Soviet-Afghan war in the eighties, Pakistan followed a US-sponsored policy to create a network of religious seminaries along the Durand Line, which could prepare the holy warriors against the Soviet army, insiders told TFT. The seminary, which now seems to be at the heart of US concerns over militant Islam, was part of Washington's policy to bleed the Soviet Union. "The madrassah has always been part of the sub-continental Islamic tradition, but its character underwent a change during the eighties. The Afghan war had much to do with that," says a researcher. Not only did the war change the character of the seminary, their numbers also increased. The January 12 speech by General Pervez Musharraf to discipline the deeni madaris, and stop Pakistanis slide into Talibanisation holds out the hope that the government may now be able to reverse the trend but there is also the fear that the enterprise may not be easy to undertake. Dr Meera Khan, a researcher on Islamic schools, told TFT "the government cannot eliminate these madaris in the short-term, but it can help change their character. Besides, it can take measures to discourage any further expansion of the network." "We do not know what is going to happen in the near future as far as the crackdown on madaris allegedly involved in undesirable activities is concerned. But one thing is sure. The religious parties and groups will not surrender so easily since the seminary is the bastion of their power," he told TFT. According to a survey conducted by the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF), a Peshawar-based NGO Pakistan has 5,86,600 students studying in 3,958 seminaries. Of these 2,332 are Deobandi, 1.626 are Brelvi, 224 are run by the Ahle Hadith and 163 are run by the Shi'ite sect. Of the total number of students, 16,600 are foreign students. The majority belongs to the Muslim countries. The Jama'at-i-lslami Pakistan runs 96 madaris, the Jamiat Ulema-i-lslam (Fazlur Rehman) operates 816 seminaries while the JUI's Samiul I laq faction runs 58 madaris. The Brelvi Jamiat Uleina-e-Pakistan has 120 Islamic schools while the Ahle Hadith runs 29, the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan runs 176 and the Tehreek-i-Ja'afria Pakistan operates 129 such schools. Nearly 90 per cent of the funds for running these schools come from within Pakistan. However, during General Zia-ul Haq's military dictatorship these madaris, to some extent, also enjoyed "state patronage." This was the time when the US was banking heavily on Islamists to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. Insiders say there are many sources of funding. Until the second Gulf War, Saudi Arabia was also a major donor, especially for religious schools run by the Ahl-Hadith. The sources of funding include public donations, charity from other sources, collections by students and hired workers, collection of animal hides on Eidul Azha, state funding from zakat collections, donations from Arab countries and Iran as also Muslims living abroad, particularly in the Western countries. Intelligence sources claim some 121 seminaries are directly funded by governments in the Gulf and the Middle East. Iran has also been heavily involved in funding Shia-run madaris. "There was no check on the funding of these madaris during the Afghan war. Later, with the advent of the Taliban, the nuisance of these madaris further grew," a former intelligence officer told TFT. That these madaris are well funded is borne out by an estimate provided by the NRDF. Madris operating in the North West Frontier Province consume over US$129 million in a year just to meet the cost of food for the students. Extrapolating from this figure it seems the total running costs and other hidden costs would be much higher than federal government's budgetary allocation for education, health, family planning etc. Interestingly, at the time of Partition, there were only two madaris in the NWFP. Until 1980 the recorded number had grown to 11 madaris. The real growth came in the mid-eighties and through the nineties. The NRDF survey says in Peshawar alone these madaris impart Islamic teachings to 20,000 students. The number for Swabi district stand at 18,000, Manshera district has 19,000 students while the Kohat district has 16,000 students. Giving the reasons for the growth of religious schools, Dr Meera Khan said: "One reason is the failure of successive governments to provide educational facilities to the poor. This factor has provided opportunity for the Islamic schools to grow. The education in madaris is almost free, which encourages the poor to send their children to the schools. But this is just one reason." The rise of the Taliban, zakat money and other sources of funding, strategic imperatives, unemployment, growing intolerance and the increasing clout of jihadis and religious parties are some of the other reasons for the growth of these schools. There are also religious schools that impart education to women only. The number of such schools across Pakistan is said to be 150 Punjab (75), NWFP (15), Sindh (19), Balochistan (15) Islamabad (11) and Azad Kashmir (15). These figures are provided by the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs. However, independent researchers claim the figure would be mud higher for both types of religious schools. Their claim is also supported by the NRDF, which put the number of schools catering to female education in the NWFP at over 80. Dr Meera Khan says the fundamentalists will not give up their last bastion of support so easily "Religious schools are a question of survival (of these leaders). These students are their workforce. They would not like to lose them," he says. The administrators of some madaris told TFT the government was not justified in its approach to the religious schools "because it has no role to play". "We are doing our Islamic duty, which is to impart Islamic teachings to the Muslims," one of the administrators of a madrassah in Peshawar told TFT. He added: "We are providing free education to the poor. If the government cannot do that, also does not have the right to interfere in our affairs." He also denied that religious schools are providing military training to the youth, teaching the sectarian intolerance and generally brainwashing them. "We are doing no such thing. Our religious teaches peace and love and we follow it in lette and spirit," he claimed.


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