- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Militant Pakistani clerics have defiantly rejected President Pervez Musharraf's bold effort to drag his country into the 21st century, threatening "civil war" if the president goes ahead with his plan to reform religious schools known as madrassas.
The plan, outlined in a speech earlier this month, won wide praise in the West for introducing basic subjects such as reading, math and writing in schools where the curriculum is largely limited to memorizing the Koran and preparing for "holy war."
But within days of Gen. Musharraf's speech, Pakistan's main religious parties announced that they would hold a series of nationwide rallies to protest against the U.S. presence in Pakistan and the government's new policy.
Few Pakistanis believe this amounts to more than bravado. Many, if not most, believe the Islamists have neither the power nor the nerve to stand up to a military government.
Still, some militants complained that demonstrations alone were not enough and began threatening to take direct action.
"There will be no more demonstrations; there've been enough," said Abdullah, 25, a Koranic teacher, outside Islamabad's main Red Mosque yesterday. "Now there'll be some practical acts."
Minutes earlier, in exactly the kind of rabble-rousing sermon Gen. Musharraf has threatened to ban, a preacher referred to Gen. Musharraf as a "terrorist" and announced: "It's time for revolution."
"If Musharraf puts restrictions on madrassas and mosques there will be a civil war, people will fight the government," said Mohammed Said, a religious teacher.
"We are ready to offer any kind of sacrifice, the worst thing that could happen to us is martyrdom."
These may not be empty threats: Soon after the president's speech earlier this month, gunmen shot at security guards in Lahore airport, injuring five persons.
In addition, a 16-story government building in Islamabad, which contained all the Interior Ministry's files on militants, was gutted by an as-yet-unexplained fire.
"It's worrying," said a civil servant. "A lot of people here have very deep-rooted religious feelings even though they may not look like extremists. Our fear is that these religious parties will definitely do something."
Much of Gen. Musharraf's efforts are directed at thousands of madrassas, Islamic boarding schools, that supported the Taliban and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in the war against the United States by sending students to fight and having younger students collect donations for the cause.
Among the most famous madrassas, the Darul uloom Haqqania educated many of the Taliban leaders and many more jihadis, or holy warriors.
Last week, the school along the famed Grand Trunk Road between Islamabad and Peshawar made efforts to present a modern image.
Visitors were taken to the computer room, a bare concrete cell where earnest, bearded young men crowded, six to a screen, around the school's five desktop computers.
Education there, which can begin as young as 5 and lasts until a young man's early 20s, is free. Gen. Musharraf has commended madrassas as excellent sources of free education in a country that has no welfare system.
But the reality is that the Haqqania prepares its 3,000 students mainly to be mullahs or Koranic teachers, not computer programmers. The same is true of other schools like it.

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