Pakistan is passing through one of its most dangerous periods of instability. This instability goes far beyond Al -Qaeda, the Taliban, and the War in Afghanistan. A net assessment of the pattern of violence and instability indicate that Pakistan is slowly spiralling into a cocktail storm of sorts, including a rapid descent into uncontrollable religious and militant extremism, a failed economy, chronic underdevelopment, intensifying insurgency, resentment amongst the people especially the tribal belt and deepening divide between the State and the Army aka the ‘Deep State’, resulting in unprecedented political, economic and social turmoil.
Added to this unstable mix of ideology, politics, economics, and demography is Imran Khan’s idea of ‘Naya Pakistan’. Early this year, when he spoke of Madrassas, it almost felt like an old stuck gramophone playing the same old tune. For those who are unaware, can view the Premier’s stance on the Madrassas of Pakistan in the video below.
“Are the 2.5 million children in madrassas are not our children? Isn’t it possible to make doctors, engineers, and judges out of madrassa students? Don’t they have a right to study the subjects like science, English, and mathematics?” Imran Khan talks about the 2.5 million children of madrassas.
“Our elite class looks very lowly of our poor children, the children of poorest families who study in Madrassas. Has anyone every asked that why there is no doctor, engineer or judge coming out of these children? Because all of the opportunities have been limited to English medium/ private schools only. That’s the reason they make judges, engineers, and doctors. Are the 2.5 million children in madrassas are not our children?
We signed a MoU with Haqania Network because we want to include these madrassa students in the national circle. Because they are not something to be ashamed of, they are our own children. None of the governments in Pakistan have ever tried to include them in the national circle. Our government has taken steps to include them in the national circle of Pakistan for the first time. The people who have a problem with it, are the ones who never helped the poor.” –
What does the Shadow King of Pakistan have to say?
However, the all-powerful Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has repeatedly criticized the role of mushrooming madrassas, contrary to the views of Imran Khan. In a rare criticism of religious seminaries by a sitting head of the Pakistan Armed Forces, General Bajwa’s comments are as significant as they get. The Pakistani military has long been accused of maintaining a soft spot for religious outfits.
Many, in the establishment support Gen Bajwa and claims that pupils educated at some of these hardline religious seminaries go on to become recruits for terror organizations. These organizations are, in reality, protected and molly-coddled by the military as ‘strategic assets’ or disposable cannon fodder, depending on one’s view. Gen Bajwa’s statement needs to be taken with a big pinch of salt as they might have been made under pressure from the US and all-weather ally, China.
Pakistan saw a spectacular rise in the number of madrasas in the 1980s when schools, backed by funding from Arab countries, became recruiting grounds for Islamic volunteers covertly funded by the West to fight Soviet forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
And as is seen now, China particularly is desperately trying to contain a restive province in Xinxiang, where ethnic Uighur Muslims are increasingly being perceived as a danger to the draconic and anti-ethnic Han communist government.
For parents mired in poverty and forced to work long hours with limited breaks, madrasas served a vital role in ensuring their children are supervised, fed and taught to read and write. But the Zia period was the turning point for the madrasa system.
Many aspects of Islamic militancy, were introduced to madrasas during General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule (1977 to 1988). Having ousted a popular and elected Prime Minister, Zia faced considerable domestic opposition, but the military’s attempts to consolidate power was assisted by events in Central and West Asia with global repercussions.
In Iran, a revolution had given a new direction to Shia fundamentalism. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) United Sunni Arabs against Iran and they wrestled for influence in neighboring Muslim nations. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. and Arab states joined to bleed the erstwhile USSR by helping the Afghans wage a jihad against the Communists while containing Iran. Pakistan’s military was the key to this ‘Holy War’.
As Zia attempted to consolidate his authority through Islamisation at home and jihad in Afghanistan, the madrassas of Pakistan were profoundly transformed. His policies nurtured many often mutually hostile varieties of fundamentalism. Each Pakistani sect, its disciples a much sought-after commodity by both the ISI and then-nascent terror organizations, closed ranks and increasingly fortified itself. As a result, sectarian divisions were organized into armed factions with immense influence and a parallel authority was slowly born in Pakistan.
These extremist sect-based groups, supported by copious funds from Arab sympathizers, and the violent sectarian conflict it inspires, are amongst the most serious challenges that confront all governments. Within Pakistan, the Zia government formulated Islamic rules and regulations for every institution, opening new avenues for madrassa pupils. Sectarianism flourished. Madrasas churned out hordes of religious graduates with few skills, training or awareness for mainstream professions leading to discontentment.
Zia’s Islamisation was meant to gain domestic legitimacy and undermine his political opposition who were the moderate but mainly secular, mainstream political elite from Punjab and Sindh provinces. Zia’s Islamisation required the support of the religious seminaries for credibility. The military government, therefore, wooed madrassas through a package of enticements including disbursement of monetary aid.
Pakistan’s crack down on madrasas after APS Peshawar attack
Highly learned Muslim Scholars also against the transformation of Madrassas
Even the greatest modern Muslim reformist thinker, Fazlur Rahman, believed that cultural isolation of madrassa students would lead to stagnation. Indeed, the puritan madrassas are already bellowing signs of a deeper dissatisfaction and fatigue with a redundant learning system. Rahman contextualized and described madrassa learning as follows:
“With the decline in intellectual creativity and the onset of ever-deepening conservatism, the curricula of education shrank and the intellectual and scientific disciplines were expurgated, yielding the entire space to purely religious disciplines in the narrowest sense of the word.”
The great Indian intellectual, Maulana Azad, also comments upon the education system and syllabi in the context of his own education in 19th Century British India, particularly the Islamic madrassas. He wrote: “It was an outdated system of education which had become barren from every point of view, teaching methods defective, worthless subjects of study, deficient in the selection of books, the defective way of reading and calligraphy.” If this is what Azad felt about Islamic madrassas more than a century ago, we can well imagine the urgency and necessity of radical reform in the contemporary system of education.
The Imran Khan government too has pledged, as many previous Pakistani governments have done, to change the status of madrassas and integrate them into the formal education sector. However, these pledges have not been backed by decisive action or a credible plan. They appear to be merely an eyewash for the vote bank and for foreign allies.
Does Pakistan’s military have the intent or the will to set Pakistani society on a sustainable course which could lead to political pluralism and religious tolerance? On a keynote– Pakistan’s madrasas have a bad reputation. the military/ polity thus far has acted very weakly, rather exploited the good-bad terrorism theory for vested interests.
The above brings out serious concerns; Firstly, with the backing of the Pakistan administration, can incubation of terrorists within Pakistan and hapless Gilgit-Baltistan be curbed? Secondly, can such regressive ideology breeding on muddled religious grounds change overnight? Will threats of stopping military and economic aids by the US or China really affect thick-skinned Pakistan ‘Deep State’ or will it simply piggyback on China and continue with its nefarious activities? There have been enough warnings issued and many half-measures taken. However, to win this battle against terrorism, and to avoid disintegration, Pakistan needs to dump its theory of good-bad terrorists in its own interest.
13 Nov 18/Tuesday Written by Afsana