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.


Indian troops kill 3 rebels in Kashmir fighting

Updated 11 min 34 sec ago
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Indian troops kill 3 rebels in Kashmir fighting

  • The fighting comes a day after suspected militants abducted and killed a police official in the same area
  • Residents say the raiding troops torched two civilian homes where the rebels were trapped

SRINAGAR, India: Three rebels were killed in a gunbattle with Indian troops in disputed Kashmir early Sunday, police said.
Counterinsurgency police and soldiers staged an early morning raid on a cluster of homes in southern Khudwani village on a tip that rebels were hiding there and came under fire, said top police officer S.P. Vaid. In the ensuing fighting, three militants were killed while troops suffered no casualties, he said.
Residents said the raiding troops torched two civilian homes where the rebels were trapped.
The fighting comes a day after suspected militants abducted and killed a police official in the same area.
In recent years, local police working with India's counterinsurgency forces have increasingly been targeted by the rebels, who accuse them of being collaborators.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989, demanding that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.