- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

Pakistan will remain a state that spawns future transnational jihadis (holy warriors for Islam against the West) so long as its madrassas (religious schools) are allowed to continue to churn them out with impunity.

Some 30,000 foreign students are now in Pakistan's seminaries from all over the world, including 40 plus Muslim states, European countries, the U.S., Canada and Australia. There are a number of John Walkers in madrassas, young self-hating Americans who have espoused the extremist Islamist creed against the Western demons that populate their brainwashed thoughts.

About 1 million young Pakistanis between the ages of 6 and 18 are currently attending some 15,000 madrassas. Some 4 million have graduated in the past 10 years. The two most important madrassas Darul Uloom Haqqania, or University for the Education of Truth, in Khattak, and Jamia Binoria, the largest in Asia, in Karachi graduated nine out of Taliban's top 10 leaders and 80 percent of the Taliban's cadres, along with the principal leaders of the terrorist organizations operating in Kashmir.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which functions as state within a state, recruited many of its young agents from these same madrassas. Frequently religious fanatics, terrorist operatives and ISI agents are one and the same people. One of the top Deobandi madrassa clerics in Pakistan, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, runs the Pakistani-Afghan Defense Council, which has declared "holy war" against the United States. A friend of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former Taliban chieftain who has now vanished, Mufti Shamzai was handpicked by ISI as part of a religious delegation sent by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to Kandahar just before the bombing started to urge Mullah Omar to rethink his decision not to hand over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. Shamzai violated his official mandate and advised Omar to hang tough.

Mufti Shamzai was also the "ustad" (teacher) of Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of the Prophet) terrorist organization that almost certainly staged the attack against the Indian Parliament Dec. 13. He was arrested last week. Until this past weekend, when Mr. Musharraf ordered the arrest of some 50 extremist leaders of the two principal terrorist organizations responsible for the Dec. 13 suicide attack in New Delhi, Mufti Shamzai, the most prominent jihadi ideologue in Pakistan, was still free despite his vow to continue holy war against the U.S.

Belatedly, three months after September 11, Mr. Musharraf has asked Interior Minister Retired Gen. Moinuddin Haider to investigate the madrassas' connection with the now-extinct Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Gen. Haider has been instructed to conduct the inquiry without ruffling too many religious feathers. "We don't want this to be coercive," said a Musharraf confidant privately, "but neither are we prepared to back down. We have a right to know what goes on in these madrassas that we must now bring into the orbit of normal education."

Madrassas have long been part of the Muslim culture in South Asia. Popular with the poor 140 million Pakistanis have a per capita income of $450 and 70 percent of them are illiterate they provide free "education" and daily sustenance. But the education, to the exclusion of all other disciplines, consists of learning the Koran by heart and the cult of jihad against the infidel powers specifically America, Israel, Russia and India as life's highest calling.

Some 5,000 madrassas are categorized as Deobandi and Wahhabi seminaries, underwritten for the most part by Saudi Arabia's clergy that benefits from the House of Saud's multibillion-dollar annual largess. Iraq, Iran and Libya have also sponsored some Pakistani madrassas.

For years, the Saudi royal family has bought peace on the home front by coddling its extremist clergy and, in effect, exporting its potential terrorists to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. Thousands of Saudis were trained in al Qaeda's terrorist camps in Afghanistan. The strategy backfired as the main post-Taliban target of Saudi terrorists is now none other than the House of Saud itself.

Most of the foreigners currently in Pakistani madrassas are illegals. Mr. Musharraf's government is now readying plans to expel them to their native countries. Next will be a costly plan to nationalize the nationwide network of madrassas. How Mr. Musharraf plans to get the ISI fox out of the madrassa henhouse is a conundrum he is yet to face.

The U.S. is expected to kick in $100 million in counterterrorist funds to computerize the network and keep tabs on the activities of the extremist clergy and their jihadi-prone students, including pamphlets and publications. A new national curricula a nationwide, on-line educational system is under consideration would be implemented through teachers who are willing to be retrained for government-licensed schools. Those who decline would be banned from teaching.

Meanwhile, rooting out former Taliban officials and al Qaeda leaders and foreign legionnaires who have crossed the border from Afghanistan and found refuge in Pakistani madrassas is a more important priority. Next, Mr. Musharraf will have to rid ISI-supported terrorist groups in Kashmir of foreign fighters and then place them under strict military control. This will be a high-wire balancing act for Mr. Musharraf as Kashmir is the Pakistani army's sacred cause and principal raison d'etre.

Mr. Musharraf says he wants to eradicate "intolerance and violence from this society" and "spread the image of a tolerant, forgiving Islam." He has taken on a formidable challenge. India should now back off and give him the benefit of the doubt.

Prior to September 11, Pakistan was being rapidly Talibanized. It was ripe for the plucking. Mr. Musharraf bucked the trend, siding with the global coalition against Osama bin Laden. The clergy, key segments of ISI, three top fundamentalist generals and several prominent nuclear weapons scientists, all aligned with Talibanization, plotted to overthrow Mr. Musharraf.

So far, the president/general has prevailed. He has also begun turning around two decades of a modus vivendi with Islamist groups dedicated to holy war that used Pakistan as a springboard for terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Kashmir and other parts of the world.

India should now see that Mr. Musharraf is at long last attempting to rehabilitate Pakistan in the eyes of moderate Islamic countries that are fighting their Islamist extremists.

If India insists on concessions that could embarrass Mr. Musharraf, such as the extradition to India of 20 leaders of Kashmiri terrorist groups known in Pakistan as "heroic freedom fighters" he would have to reverse his present crackdown on extremists lest he face accusations of treason and renewed countrywide violence. Last week's assassination of Interior Minister Haider's brother came a day after Gen. Haider had said religious groups would be barred from collecting funds for holy war In Kashmir. It was an ominous warning to the anti-extremist reformers.

If India overplays its hand, Mr. Musharraf would also have to abandon plans to reform ISI and the madrassa breeding grounds of transnational terrorism. A fourth Indo-Pakistani war between two nuclear powers could only play into the hands of Islamist extremists the world over.


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