- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan's military government is moving step by step to tighten control over several thousand religious schools that have become cradles of terrorism by promoting jihad, or holy war, among young Muslims.
President Pervez Musharraf is not attempting to impose a blanket ban on the schools, known as the madrassas. But some schools that were offering military training to young student clerics, particularly in the autonomous tribal areas near the Afghan border, are being kept under closer scrutiny.
Rather than try to close the madrassas, Gen. Musharraf is moving to reform their curricula to include secular subjects that would be of use to the students after they graduate and help them find jobs.
Madrassa leaders and Islamic scholars deny that the madrassas have been teaching jihad. "There is no subject called jihad," said Islamic scholar Zafar Ishaq, who leads the Islamic Research Institute at the Faizal Mosque in Islamabad.
But preaching jihad is another matter, he said. "Anyone can preach jihad," which is an Islamic concept, he added.
Police investigating Islamic militant groups during the past year have found large arms caches in several madrassas, even in densely populated urban areas like Karachi. Terrorist groups were also using the minarets of mosques where the madrassas were located as lookout posts.
Pakistani authorities do not have the exact numbers of madrassas or student enrollments. Unofficial estimates place the number of schools as high as 10,000 with as many as 1.5 million students large enough, according to experts, to raise a small army of "taliban" (student clerics). Mr. Ishaq, who says the figure is "inflated," puts the number of schools at 5,000 to 6,000.
The Taliban army that seized control in Afghanistan in 1996 was made up of 40,000 student clerics. About the time that Gen. Musharraf banned several Islamic militant groups in early January, their membership was estimated at 5,000.
An ordinance issued by the military government in June requires madrassas to be registered with the authorities and to provide such information as their locations, the number of students, the curricula being taught and the sources of funding.
The ordinance set 18 as the minimum age for a student at a madrassa and makes it illegal for the schools "to raise any military or paramilitary force, or permit the use of any arms, ammunition, or [military] equipment."
Gen. Musharraf also wants to bring the madrassa financing under control. In the past many schools have received funds from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, which put them within the orbit of al Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden and blamed for the September 11 attacks.
One government study estimated that mosques and madrassas received $1.1 billion annually in charitable donations.
Controlling the finances, however, is proving difficult, police investigators say. Much of the funding for the schools were received through "hawala," a flourishing unofficial system through which large amounts of money are exchanged unchecked.
The ordinance also imposes restrictions on admitting foreign students. Afghans already in the country are permitted to enroll, but no Afghans from across the border will be allowed in. Arab students are also being kept out, and those from Western countries will be allowed to enroll only if Islamic seminaries do not exist in their own countries.
The foreigners are being asked to provide documents indicating that their governments have no objection to their studying in Pakistani madrassas.
The move has not kept Americans from applying, but one American man said he was made to run around to get a student visa for his son to study in a Pakistani madrassa.

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