LAHORE  - The federal government has stepped up action on a comprehensive strategy evolved to bring Madaris/religious schools into mainstream schooling after introducing constructive changes in the education system, being imparted through religious seminaries across Pakistan.

Well-informed sources familiar with development say that the federal interior ministry has pinpointed more than 500 religious schools involved in fomenting extremism besides accepting huge funds from donors abroad.

The plan, initiated in 2009, is said to be part of the government’s renewed commitment to regulate all religious schools in the country and a lot has been achieved since then.

Officials say that there is no credible information over the exact number of unregistered Madaris located in different provinces of the country but estimates of registered Madaris range from 10,000 to 20,000. All the religious schools are being registered through a phased programme while this process has almost been completed.

Out of 10,430 Madaris identified yet, at least 8,970 have been registered with the Ministry of Education and these seminaries belong to five major schools of thought including Barelvi, Ahle-Hadith, Wahabi, Deoband and Shia.

According to intelligence inputs, the management of at least 500 unregistered Madrassas was considered as hardliners.  The provincial law enforcing and intelligence agencies had compiled a list of such religious madrassas along with basic particulars like the source of funding, belief, number of teachers, students and other activities as well.

These madrassas are divided in four major categories of A, B, C and D, most the madrassas fall in D-category, which is considered as non-extremist.

Official sources confirmed that more than 500 madrassas were being considered as most sensitive. The A-category was marked as the potential threats, B-category as highly sensitive and C-category as sensitive. The Punjab Home Department has already evaluated the profile of these institutions in detail.

A senior official in the Punjab Home Department, on the condition of anonymity, underlined that the authorities had acted very vigilantly on the key policy of Madrassa reforms. Various mechanisms have been devised to change the status of Madaris and integrate them into the formal education sector. The reformation of Madaris is one of the main components of government of Pakistan’s long-term strategy to tackle radicalisation leading to extremism.

Officials said that the government is determined to bring these Madaris into the mainstream of public education system through a number of reforms.

As per the fresh policy, the new religious seminaries can now only be opened after obtaining permission from the government. Madaris administrations have been asked to review their syllabi to include other subjects like English, mathematics, computer, science, other modern languages and technical subjects. Free Islamic and modern textbooks and other rewards including salaries for teachers are also being introduced as per these reforms. These Madaris are also being affiliated with education boards and universities for grant of recognised certificates after completion of studies according to the size and level of education being imparted at such schools.

Last but also the least, any foreign students desirous of receiving religious education in Pakistan are required to get an NOC from their country as well as from Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior. Bringing Madaris into the mainstream educational system is a positive step that may bring several constructive changes in the country, educationists observed.  The Punjab government’s de-radicalisation programme is to prevent the Madaris from falling into the hands of extremists. In addition to the district police, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Special Branch and the Special Investigations Cells of the Punjab police have been activated and assigned specials tasks.

The police are also directed to hunt down those who had been financing the unregistered madrassas by examining their sources of funding.

Besides local law enforcing agencies, a leading intelligence agency has been tasked to monitor the activities and working of these madrassas. On the basis of the monitoring reports, the government has launched de-radicalisation programme to neutralise the students, teachers and the hard-line clerics as well.