- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf yesterday ordered his government to reform and regulate the nation's "madrassa" religious schools as part of a broad crackdown on religious extremism.
There are about 1 million boys and male teen-agers in approximately 15,000 madrassas where they learn to read and write, recite the Koran by rote and are taught by clerics to hate America, Israel and India. For the first time the schools will be required to teach disciplines other than Koranic studies.
Gen. Musharraf also instructed his Cabinet to prepare legislation that would ban religious parties that have military sections, and those that "volunteered" teen-age madrassa students in the past two months to cross into Afghanistan and fight with the Taliban in a "holy war" against the United States.
An estimated 12,000 young men responded to the call. The capture and killing of Pakistani volunteers in Taliban ranks has been a major political embarrassment for Gen. Musharraf.
Madrassas are popular, as they provide free food and board for the children of poor families in a country where the public education system has collapsed and 70 percent of the people are illiterate. In the past 10 years, the schools have trained an estimated 4 million youngsters in Koranic studies with the underlying belief that American policy is to destroy Islam.
The bulk of madrassa subsidies are derived from fundamentalist Wahabi clergy in Saudi Arabia who, in turn, are generously funded from the kingdom's budget. About 20,000 madrassa students are from other Muslim countries. Random questioning showed that they believe they are studying to become "jihadis," or holy warriors.
Education experts say it will take many years to reform the system.
Religious leaders are putting out word that Gen. Musharraf has begun an "anti-Islamic campaign" under U.S. pressure to destroy the Islamic system of education.
The "excluded class" in Pakistan lends a willing ear to clerics who tell them the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan is an attack against Islam by the "infidels."
Gen. Musharraf has ordered his ministers to move swiftly against religious extremism and terrorism by strengthening the Anti-Terrorist Act of 1997, which was designed to cope with sectarian violence.
"There is no greater priority," Gen. Musharraf told his ministers.
The president, according to Cabinet sources, said he wants to separate religion from politics by banning religious parties that participate in political campaigning. The number of Pakistanis killed or captured by Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan came as a "rude awakening," one former minister said while speaking on the condition he not be identified.
A soon-to-be-formed Regulatory Board for the Religious Institutions will be charged with:
Monitoring sources of foreign donations to religious entities.
Banning military training and storage of weapons on the premises of religious institutions.
Certifying the registration of madrassas and religious institutions.
Prescribing a uniform program of study for all religious schools.
Under a law soon to be announced, new madrassas will be established only after approval by the regulatory board.
Gen. Musharraf has put the three leading religious political firebrands under house arrest since October, but they still are allowed visitors and spend hours on their mobile phones talking to subordinates.
One other is in jail. Sufi Mohammed was sentenced to three years for facilitating the movement of Pakistani jihad volunteers into Afghanistan. He was not arrested on his way into Afghanistan, with a public display of leading jihadis across the border, but was detained upon his return.
Distributed by United Press International

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