Army chief says Pakistan should 'revisit' madrassas, cites need to prepare students for the modern world

Pakistani children participate in a rally during a religious celebration in Lahore on December 1, 2017. Pakistan’s army chief on Thursday says the country needs to “revisit” the religious school concept to avoid the radicalization of youngsters. (AFP / ARIF ALI)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Army chief says Pakistan should 'revisit' madrassas, cites need to prepare students for the modern world

QUETTA, Pakistan: Pakistan’s army chief on Thursday criticized madrassas that have mushroomed nationwide for mostly teaching only Islamic theology, saying the country needs to “revisit” the religious school concept.
Modernizing madrassa education is a thorny issue in Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation where religious schools are often blamed for radicalization of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks, apparently off-the-cuff during a prepared speech, were a rare example of an army chief criticizing madrassas, which are often built adjacent to mosques and underpin Islamization efforts by religious hard-liners.
Bajwa said a madrassa education in Pakistan was inadequate because it did not prepare students for the modern world.
“I am not against madrassas, but we have lost the essence of madrassas,” Bajwa told a youth conference in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Bajwa said he was recently told that 2.5 million students were being taught in madrassas belonging to the Deobandi, a Sunni Muslim sub-sect.
“So what will they become: will they become Maulvis (clerics) or they will become terrorists?” Bajwa asked, saying it was impossible to build enough mosques to employ the huge number of madrassa students.
“We need to look (at) and revisit the concept of madrassas...We need to give them a worldly education.”
Pakistan has over 20,000 registered madrassas, though there are believed to be thousands more unregistered ones. Some are single-room schools with a handful of students studying the Qur'an.
Security services have kept a close eye on madrassas associated with radicalising youths and feeding recruits to Islamist militant outfits that have killed tens of thousands of people in the South Asian country since 2000.
But only a handful of the schools have been shut down, the authorities’ hand stayed by fears of a religious backlash.
Islamist hard-liners hold great sway in Pakistani society, with the capital, Islamabad, paralyzed for nearly three weeks last month by a blockade staged by a newly formed ultra-religious party.
Bajwa said poor education was holding back the nation of 207 million people, and especially in madrassas.
“Most of them are just teaching theology. So what are their chances? What is their future in this country?“
The military last year proposed a plan to deradicalize religious hard-liners by “mainstreaming” some into political parties, a plan initially rejected by the civilian government but which now appears to be taking form.


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.