Pakistani religious parties refuse registration drive
KARACHI, July 4 (AFP) –
Pakistan’s Islamist parties on Tuesday accused military ruler General
Pervez Musharraf of caving in to US pressure over alleged terrorism
and vowed to resist a drive to register religious schools.

Leaders of the powerful religious lobby said the seminaries had
refused to fill out the government’s registration forms and rejected
claims that they are breeding grounds for terrorists as US and Indian
propaganda.

“All the four major groups of Islamic seminaries rejected the survey
forms sent by the ministry of interior as we feel this excerise is
being carried out on US directives,” Shah Ahmed Noorani, chief of
Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), told AFP.

“Once the US used the word ‘mujahideen’ for those who were fighting
against the Soviets (in Afghanistan) and now they’re calling the same
people ‘terrorists’.”

The government has begun documenting the thousands of religious
schools, called madrassas, in response to mounting international
concern over religious zealotry and fundamentalism in Pakistan.

Tuesday’s statements from the religious leaders show they are in no
mood to cooperate, especially after their victory earlier this year
when they forced the regime to backpeddle on plans to soften harsh
blasphemy laws.

Interior ministry officials claim to have registered some 400
madrassas this year and are trying to encourage them to move away from
purely Koranic scholarship to more “mainstream” education.

The United States — which last month labelled Pakistan a “safe haven”
for terrorists — as well as several central Asian and Arabic states
have asked Islamabad to rein in religious fundamentalism.

Washington also wants Pakistan to help convince the fundamentalist
Taliban militia ruling Afghanistan to hand over alleged terrorist
supremo Osama bin Laden, accused of plotting the US embassy bombings
in Africa in 1998.

India says Islamic guerrillas fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir
receive training at the Islamic seminaries in Pakistan and
Afghanistan.

“Our government is playing into their hands and wants to introduce
secular education,” said Noorani.

Fazlur Rehman, president of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
(JUI), met Musharraf on Monday and said the general raised the “bad
reports” about the religious schools.

“Musharraf agreed that most of these schools are playing a positive
role but there are bad reports about some of them,” Rehman said.

“I suggested to the chief executive that investigations of such
schools should be conducted by the ministry of religious affairs
instead of the intelligence agencies because their reports were not
correct.”

Rehman also blamed non-governmental organisations for spreading
“propaganda” against the schools.

There are around 3,000 madrassas in Pakistan with more than 50,000
students, a JUI official said.

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