- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan The government of President Pervez Musharraf is planning a major crackdown early next year on private Islamic boarding schools that have raised cash and recruited fighters to battle the United States in Afghanistan.
The crackdown was to have begun with the passage of a broad anti-terrorism law in August, weeks before the September 11 attacks on America.
"Shortly after the law was passed by the Cabinet, we had the situation in September and the government has been fighting fires ever since," said Syed Anwar Mahmood, Pakistan's secretary of information.
"Our friends [in Afghanistan] do not make it any easier for us," he said, alluding to the target of the U.S.-led military campaign aimed at destroying the country's Taliban government and its guest, Osama bin Laden, who is believed responsible for the September 11 attacks.
The new law aims at the heart of Islamic fanaticism among a small but vocal minority in Pakistan by targeting about 15,000 Islamic boarding schools known as madrassas, which have educated a generation of militants including Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.
It sets down a tough new definition of terrorism as a threat or act of violence against a rival to advance a political, religious, ideological or ethnic cause, and sets the death penalty for those convicted of killing someone in a terrorist act.
It also offers madrassas funding from government-run charities, and would award graduates the equivalents of high school and college degrees if the schools begin teaching traditional subjects such as math and science along with religious studies.
When Gen. Musharraf returns next week from a visit to China, he plans to call a meeting of Islamic clerics and scholars.
"He will consult with them and take them into his confidence about what he plans to do," Mr. Mahmood said. "He is expected in the first week of January to take a series of steps to implement the law."
Pakistani madrassas offer free room and board to an estimated 1 million boys, who often are sent there because their parents are too poor to feed them adequately. The funding comes from organizations in wealthy Arab oil states, mainly Saudi Arabia. The students spend years memorizing the Koran and are taught to hate the West, Jews and India.
Pakistani madrassas gave birth to the Taliban in the early 1990s, when students from Afghanistan began graduating with degrees giving them the title "mullah."
They sent a steady stream of such graduates to training camps in Afghanistan that were run by bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist group.
In October, President Bush ordered the air and ground campaign against Afghanistan after the Taliban's repeated refusal to turn over bin Laden.
Madrassas responded by sending their children to the streets to stage anti-U.S. protests and to collect donations for the Taliban and bin Laden.
In addition, they sent thousands of older students and recent graduates to Afghanistan to fight an anticipated U.S. ground invasion that never materialized. Most either have been killed or have slipped through the porous Pakistani-Afghan border and quietly returned home.
"If the education had been religious, it would have been OK. Unfortunately, they have given a kind of religious education that is not what Islam is all about," Mr. Mahmood said.
"Apart from teaching a political brand of Islam, they taught hatred of the West and hatred of other sectarian groups that led to fighting with other groups," he said.
Sometimes competing madrassas would fight each other; occasionally, students of one madrassa would kill students of another. "This was a dangerous trend and the president was determined to rein it in," Mr. Mahmood said.
The new anti-terrorism law offers rewards for madrassas that cooperate and penalties for those that resist.
One objective is to provide government aid to madrassas that broaden the curriculum beyond exclusive religious teaching. The government also would set up a national board for madrassa education that would grant diplomas.
The law also mandates the death penalty or life imprisonment for any terrorist act that results in death, and 10 years to life for an act that results in serious injury. Bail would not be allowed.

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