Funding for madressahs (Business Recorder (Pakistan))

Foreign funding for education is not confined to the religious schools; others too receive foreign aid, assistance and scholarships. The issue of national concern therefore should be whether or not foreign funding reaching the madressahs its recipients are not many as public perception, wrongly, tends to suggest is being used to nurture sectarian extremism and antistate terrorism in Pakistan. The fact must be placed on record also that the existence of madressahs in Pakistan, and for that matter in almost all Muslim countries, predates the ongoing spell of terrorism. So if there are some 30,000 madressahs in Pakistan this should not surprise anyone; these were there much before the advent of Afghan Jihad, and more in number in the tribal areas that had defied colonial footprint and western education more vigorously than the rest. And not necessarily only radicalised families send their children to madressahs. Given the fact that successive governments in Pakistan repeatedly failed to universalise primary education in the country and that public and private schooling remains beyond the reach of the poor families the deeni madressahs plug the gap.
The debate therefore ought not to be ‘who receives foreign funding and from where’, the debate should explore a plausible answer to a pertinent question if the foreign funding is being used to promote terrorism in Pakistan. Also, as to who sends the funding and whether it reaches the recipient madressahs openly through legal channels or clandestine passages. The Senate was informed by the government last week that the madressahs receive funding from five Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Iran. How much of it is sent by their governments that is no secret, and cannot be a reality aptly reflected from the Saudi embassy’s curt response that the Pakistan Foreign Office has been ‘certifying’ that the Kingdom’s financial support for mosques and madressahs was in public interest. That puts paid to people like Federal Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada who accused the Saudi government of bankrolling terrorism in Pakistan, a claim he didn’t take long to take back.
So under a sharper focus should be the funding that reaches the madressahs from nongovernment sources like charities and philanthropist individuals. This amount is anybody’s guess WikiLeaks, quoting a US government diplomatic cable, put the figure at $100 million a year that ‘was making way from the Arab Gulf states to an extremist recruitment network in Pakistan’s Punjab province’. The Punjab government denies the charge, saying “No news of any madressahs receiving financial and training assistance from Muslim countries has come to our notice”. On another occasion, the government admitted some 80 seminaries received funding totalling about Rs 300 million ‘from a number of countries, both European and Muslim’. Obviously, the picture as to who received what and from where remains blurred. But what is not blurred and brooks no debate is that the rampant incidence of terrorism as it plays out in Pakistan carries unmistakable sectarian imprint; not too infrequently made known almost instantly by the involved outfits a shadow image of a wider ShiaSunni war raging across the Islamic World.
Maybe, those at contention in Pakistan are the proxies and receive patronage from abroad. But instead of getting lost in the pros and cons of this complex war we need to turn focus on how it plays out in Pakistan and how to put out of action these proxies. We need to shed generalities; we need to come to grips with the issue of foreign funding by first and foremost identifying the recipients who receive foreign funding and spend it on fomenting sectarianism. The onus of a certain madressah receiving funding to promote extremism should lie with the government, and not with the suspect seminary. Probably, the framers of antiterrorism National Action Plan could have avoided pinpointing sectarian strife as its exclusive target.