Pakistani madrassas - breeding ground for terror?
William Dalrymple writes
in the the Asia Times
about myths surrounding the madrassas in Pakistan. He starts pretty well on the empty promises by General Musharraf on shutting down those madrassas breeding terror. But his analysis falls short on certain counts. Read on:
Many of the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, were trained at this institution. If its teachings have been blamed for inspiring the brutal, ultra-conservative incarnation of Islamic law that that regime presided over, there is no sign that the Haqqania is ashamed of its former pupils: instead, the madrassa's director, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, still proudly boasts that whenever the Taliban put out a call for fighters, he would simply close down the madrassa and send his students off to fight.
I remarked that there did not seem to be much evidence of the Haqqania suffering from the crackdown on centers of radicalism promised by President Pervez Musharraf. Sami's face lit up:
"That is for American consumption only," he laughed cheerfully. "It is only statements to the newspapers. Nothing has happened."
"So," I asked, "You are not finding the atmosphere difficult at the moment?"
"We are in a good, strong position," replied Sami.
So much for General Musharraf's promise to do a U-Turn on supporting the Taliban.
An Interior Ministry report after September 11 revealed that there are now 27 times as many madrassas in the country as there were in 1947: from 245 at the time of independence, the number shot up to 6,870 in 2001. 
A significant proportion of these are run by, or connected to, the radical Islamist political parties such as the MMM, which under Sami's vice presidency have just imposed a Taliban-like regime on Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, banning the public performance of music and depictions of the human form.
Indeed. It is not only the madrassas which are propogating intolerance and hate, but also the Pakistani mainstream education system. Recently, the American Congressional Research Service published
a report on the state of the Pakistani education system which openly glorifies jihad and martyrism in the name of Islam. Then, Mr. Dalrymple asks an important question:
how much are these madrassas the source of the problems that culminated in the Islamist attacks of September 11? Are madrassas simply terrorist factories? Should the West be pressing US client states like Pakistan and Egypt simply to close them down?
It is certainly true that many madrassas are fundamentalist and literalist in their approach to the scriptures and that many subscribe to the most hardline strains of Islamic thought. Few make any effort to prepare their students to function in a modern, plural society. It is also true that some madrassas can be directly linked to Islamic radicalism and occasionally to outright civil violence.
it is estimated that as many as 15% of Pakistan's madrassas preach violent jihad, while a few have been said to provide covert military training. Madrassa students took part in the Afghan and Kashmir jihads, and have been repeatedly implicated in acts of sectarian violence, especially against the Shi'ite minority in Karachi.
It is now becoming very clear, however, that producing cannon fodder for the Taliban and educating local sectarian thugs is not at all the same as producing the kind of technically literate al-Qaeda terrorist who carried out the horrifyingly sophisticated attacks on the USS Cole, the US embassies in East Africa, the World Trade Center and the London Underground.
Heh. How convenient. The author forgets that the mastermind of the 9.11. attacks Khalid Sheik Mohammed
in right near the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad on March 2003. Such a high-profile terrorist could'nt have escaped counter-terror police throughout the world for 2 years without an active support network in Pakistan. In addition, several "high-value targets" belonging to Al-Qaeda where caught in daylight in some of the biggest Pakistani cities.
It is true that there are several examples of radical madrassa graduates who have become involved with al-Qaeda: Maulana Masood Azhar, for example, leader of the jihadi group called Jaish-e-Muhammad and an associate of bin Laden, originally studied in the ultra-militant Binori Town madrassa in Karachi.
By and large, however, madrassa students simply do not have the technical expertise necessary to carry out the kind of sophisticated attacks we have recently seen led by al-Qaeda. Instead the concerns of most madrassa graduates remain more traditional: the correct fulfillment of rituals, how to wash correctly before prayers, and the proper length to grow a beard.
Only partially correct. Without the sympathy of these madrassas, these terrorists could'nt have planned/funded these attacks. One source of funding is the Saudi Wahhabis. But since 9.11, there has been considerable crackdown on these sources. The truth is that there is a widespread sympathy for these Islamists among the rural, religious Pakistani public brainwashed by the madrassas and the mullahs. The confidence with which the chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba Hafeez Mohammed Saeed organized and collected aid money for the South Asia quake goes on to prove that these groups command great respect among the public. Ofcourse, the corrupt military establishment and the archaic feudal system of Pakistan only serves to give political space to these extremists.
However, the more extreme madrassas have been able to resist the enforcement of even these mild measures; recently, fewer than half of Pakistan's madrassas complied when asked to register as educational institutions with the authorities. To date, the Pakistani government, far from having found ways of curbing the excesses of the more radical madrassas, does not even possess exact statistics about the number of madrassas in the country. Moreover, the military government's close alliance with the Islamist parties, which now virtually control two of Pakistan's provinces, prevents Musharraf from acting more strongly against the extremist madrassas. As a result not even one militant madrassa has yet been closed.
Exactly. The relation between the Pakistani military establishment and the religious, extremist organizations is one of synergy. One needs the other inordr to survive and justify their power over the gullible public. Unless, this is realized and the nexus is cut, no amount of enticement (read American aid to reform the educational system) will help curb these terrorist nests.