Pakistan plans to bring all of its madrassas, or religious schools, under its national education system in a landmark security policy aimed at combating extremism.
The first “National Internal Security Policy”, which was presented to parliament by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, plans to bring all 22,000 of the country’s seminaries under its control within a year.
A large number of terrorists, either are, or have been students of madrassas.
Madrassas are usually Muslim-only schools where children study theology en-route to becoming religious teachers or clerics.
On the topic of religious schools, the document says: “It is important to mention upfront that not all madrassas are a problem and therefore these must not be viewed negatively as a whole.”
“However, there were problems within some madrassas which have spread extremism,” it adds, noting “financing from unidentified sources” and the “publication and distribution of hate material”.
The vast majority of madrassas in Pakistan fall outside government control and offer little in the way of mainstream subjects for their students.
The 94-page policy document offers a candid and introspective look at where Pakistan has been failing in its efforts to fight terror.
The document criticises the country’s military for being “unable to demonstrate other capabilities essential to successful counter-insurgency: hold, build and integrate”, adding it is up to civil institutions to take up the work.
The policy calls on the government “to build a national narrative on extremism and terrorism,” opinion polls in the past have shown there is no overwhelming public consensus on tackling extremist groups.
Breeding grounds for terrorism
After 9/11, Pakistan’s madrassas have been viewed with suspicion, regarded as a breeding ground for radical interpretations of Islam.
In August, the US treasury placed sanctions on a madrassa in Peshawar, calling it a "terrorist training centre".
"A large number of terrorists, either are, or have been students of madrassas where they were brainwashed to take up arms against the state," the paper said.
Pakistan’s decade-long armed attacks have claimed thousands of lives and is said to have cost the economy "more than $78 billion" according to the AFP news agency.
On Saturday, the Pakistani Taliban announced a month-long ceasefire aimed at resuming stalled peace talks with the Pakistan government, but analysts voiced scepticism over the move.
Dialogue between Islamabad and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that began last month was suspended after the group killed 23 soldiers.
The military responded with a series of air strikes that have left more than 100 dead.