Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pakistani Islamic schools are training militants and supporting violent Islamist groups


Pakistani religious schools are training militants and supporting violent Islamist groups while government efforts to reform the seminaries are in a shambles, a security think-tank said on Thursday.

President Pervez Musharraf announced controls on the schools in 2002 but the seminaries, known as madrasas, had in fact thrived because of the government's dependence on religious parties, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.

The Brussels-based group said in a report focusing on Karachi that madrasas in Pakistan's biggest city had trained and dispatched "jihadi", or holy war, fighters to Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir.

"The government's inaction has allowed well-financed networks of madrasas, sectarian parties, and militant groups to flourish in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan," said Samina Ahmad, the group's South Asia Project Director.

The report was released as authorities in Islamabad were confronting pro-Taliban clerics and their female madrasa students after the students abducted women in a raid on a suspected brothel as part of a private anti-vice drive.

The ICG said because of government failure to regulate madrasas, it was impossible to know how many there were in Karachi and the country as a whole.

The government has said there are 13,000 madrasas nationwide but the think-tank said well-founded estimates put the number at about 20,000. Despite bans and restrictions, an unknown number of foreign students were enrolled at the schools.

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