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.


UN chief: Highest number of conflicts in 30 years, record 69 million displaced

Updated 19 June 2018
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UN chief: Highest number of conflicts in 30 years, record 69 million displaced

COPENHAGEN: The number of countries involved in “violent conflicts” is the highest in 30 years, while the number of people killed in conflicts has risen tenfold since 2005, the UN secretary-general said Tuesday.
Antonio Guterres added that the number of “violent situations” classifiable as wars, based on the number of casualties, has tripled since 2007.
He also told reporters in Oslo, Norway, that “low-intensity conflicts” rose by 60 percent since 2007. Guterres gave no specific figures.
“Prevention is more necessary than ever,” Guterres said, adding “mediation becomes an absolutely fundamental instrument in our action.”
Guterres, who was attending a meeting on peacemaking, said that on top of regional conflicts, global terrorism was a new type of struggle that “can strike anywhere at any time.”
The annual Oslo Forum panel discussion on peacemaking also was attended by leaders from Somalia, Algeria, Jordan, Oman and Tanzania. The White House envoy for the war against the Islamic State also attended.
The UN refugee agency said nearly 69 million people fleeing war, violence and persecution were forcibly displaced last year, a record number.
In its annual Global Trends Report published Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the continued crises in places like South Sudan and Congo, as well as the exodus of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar that started last year, raised the overall figure of forced displacements in 2017 to 68.5 million.