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Pakistan Tightens Control Over Madrassas - 2002-06-19

Pakistan's government is tightening control over Islamic seminaries in the country, barring them from receiving foreign financial aid and ordering them to register with authorities. Many of these religious institutions, also known as "madrassas," have produced Islamic militants, including many members of the Taleban movement in neighboring Afghanistan.

The Pakistani cabinet has approved Wednesday a decree, which will allow the Islamic madrassas to receive government funds only if they agree to teach modern subjects - including mathematics, science, English and Urdu - along with the religious curriculum.

The new decree, which part of the campaign against extremism by President Pervez Musharraf's government - prohibits madrassas from receiving donations or aid from any foreign source. It also bars them from admitting foreign students or appointing foreign teachers without the government's permission.

Speaking at a news conference, Information Minister Nisar Memon said the decision is part of Pakistan's efforts to root out religious extremism in the country. "In Pakistan as you know madrassas [Islamic seminaries] have been the place where lot of education has been imparted," he said. "But lately as you all know, they have been subjected to the militancy in some of the places. So we want to control this."

Mr. Memon says Madrassas refusing to register with special education boards in the country will not be allowed to operate. "Any madrassa which does not register itself, they will be disbanded," he said. "They will be closed immediately, they will not be allowed to re-establish themselves, there will be fines which will come on them for not have registered."

There are thousands of madrassas across Pakistan, which are run by private Islamic groups or religio-political parties. Islamic sects such as the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites have their own religious seminaries. They often give different interpretations of Islamic beliefs leading to sectarian violence in Pakistan.

Many of their Afghan students established the radical Taleban movement, in 1994, that ruled Afghanistan for six years. A large number of Pakistani and Arab students at these Madrassas joined the Taleban to fight against an opposition alliance based in Afghanistan.

Religious leaders who run Islamic seminaries in Pakistan are often accused of receiving donations from foreign Islamic governments or private organizations, without subjecting themselves to audit. But under the new law, every registered madrassa will have to maintain accounts and submit annual reports to authorities.