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Most Pakistani madrassas serving useful purpose

WASHINGTON, June 14(Daily Times): The US should refrain from getting involved in Pakistan's broader madrassa reform efforts and accept that many of the traditional madrassas serve a useful purpose in educating Islamic intellectuals and providing shelter and food for impoverished youth, according to Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation.

Testifying before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee, she said that while a few Pakistani madrassas represent an international terrorist threat and deserve American scrutiny and condemnation, most madrassas should be left alone. "US efforts to encourage education reform and development in Pakistan should be consistent, sustained, and multi-pronged. Ensuring transparency and efficiency in the education bureaucracy is equally important to encouraging local community involvement and accountability in the day-to-day functioning of individual schools, especially in poor, rural areas," she said.

According to her, "The development of a strong and effective education system in Pakistan is central to promoting moderation, tolerance, and economic development. Convincing the Pakistani government to take firm action against the handful of madrassas supporting violent extremism also is necessary, not only for the future stability of Pakistan, but also to prevent future international terrorism."

She told the subcommittee that a strong and effective education system in Pakistan will help to ensure that the country steers toward a path of stability, moderation, and prosperity in the years to come, and should therefore be a top priority for Washington in its relations with Islamabad. Lack of adequate education opportunities in Pakistan has contributed to the development of extremist ideologies that have fuelled terrorism and sectarian tensions as well as stifled economic growth. Fostering development and reform of the public education system will not only contribute to Pakistani economic prosperity and social tolerance, it will help improve the image of the United States by demonstrating American interest in the human development of average Pakistani citizens.

Curtis said one of the major problems with Pakistan's public education sector has been the endemic corruption within the system, which has led to the phenomenon of "ghost schools". The US can help by supporting teacher training programmes and encouraging greater accountability through community involvement, but the Pakistani government will have to do its part to limit corruption and inefficiency within the system. She told the legislators that many madrassas connected to violent militancy are located in Karachi as well as in Punjab. These madrassas and associated militant groups have an interdependent relationship in which the militant groups provide armed backing for the madrassas, and the madrassas in turn provide motivated recruits for the militant organisations. She noted that the Musharraf government has had little success with its attempts to assert greater government authority over the madrassas. She pointed out that the Minister for Religious Affairs Ejazul Haq is the son of Gen Ziaul Haq whose Islamisation policies in the 1980s resulted in an expansion of the madrassa network.

"Ejazul Haq has so far been reluctant to confront the prominent religious parties that have ties to foreign-funded madrassas and are resisting government reform," she added.
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