As the third phase of the National Action Plan gets under way, the government has sought co-operation of the seminary leadership to help eradicate extremism from the body politic, and indications are that it is readily available.
In two marathon sessions with the prime minister and his senior aides – with Army Chief General Raheel Sharif also in attendance – on Monday an understanding is said to have been reached that the seminaries would get themselves registered, shall welcome upgraded curricula, and also come clean on the contentious issue of their alleged funding.
Not that this is a huge breakthrough; earlier over the years, at least twice such an understanding had materialised but failed to bear fruit, mainly for lack of an appropriate follow-up action. But that is no more the case now as the challenge of mainstreaming seminaries comes to have a direct bearing on national survival, warranting a now-or-never fight against sectarian and religious extremism in the country.
There has been give-and-take – while the seminary leaders have agreed to get their institutions registered, shun sheltering hate mongers, and introduce present-day curricula. The government, on its part, has agreed to simplify the registration process and evolve a mechanism to streamline foreign funding to seminaries. And for this, a meeting between the seminary leaders and the State Bank officials is expected in coming days.
That would take some time, but where the understanding between the government and the seminary leaders becomes operative right now is the zero tolerance for any seminary involved in fomenting sectarian strife by calling others infidels, distributing hate literature, harbouring terrorists, and facilitating those involved in such activities.
The government is of the view that if action against militants can go apace without discrimination between good and bad Taliban and if high and mighty in politics can be questioned what made them super rich overnight, then surely anyone running a seminary that nurtures sectarian hatred and provides shelter to a foreign-funded suicide-bomber cannot be spared either.
But that said it has to be admitted that where the government has failed the religious schools have succeeded – they provide education to the children of parents who cannot afford to pay fees though the state is under a constitutional obligation to provide education to all children of Pakistan.
And some of the religious schools are located where officialdom would dread to tread given disincentives of inhospitable terrains and extreme climate. Some three million children go to religious schools; which is no small number and not easy to overlook when the justification for the religious schools is debated, especially now that education has been devolved to provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment – and literally made an orphan.
Yes, there are a few black sheep among the seminaries but so are the fully-funded ghost schools. Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. It goes to the credit of the Tanzeem-e-Ittehadul Madaris (TIM) interlocutors that they have offered their unreserved co-operation to help streamline the seminaries.
The ball is now in the government’s court; it can sleep over it, as it did it twice before, or play it by making many worthwhile contributions to modernise the education system now prevalent in most of these schools. If laptops can be distributed in government schools then why not in religious schools as well.
At the same time the TIM is expected to open the doors of the seminaries under its control to the influx of modern day educational requirements. Without imparting education in fields that help students get respectable jobs after schooling, the seminaries’ managements would be falling short of their moral responsibility of producing a crop that is of no good use not only to its expected beneficiaries but also society at large.
This is certainly a huge challenge before the TIM, as it is before the government to give its best by making readily available the entire wherewithal that help early streamlining of religious schools. Hopefully, this time it would happen – because there is simply no other option.
Source: Business Recorder