In the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, and the National Action Plan against terrorism that was put in place thereafter, focus seems to have turned on the individual: hate-spewing clerics needed to be arrested, for their venom was insulting to the memory of those who died on December 16, 2014 and counter-productive for any national resolve to fight off terror.

But few are asking the fundamental question, which is if the real issue is the individual or the institution that he represents? Maulana Abdul Aziz can be arrested and removed from Lal Masjid, for example, but would that translate into removing his spirit and footprints from Jamia Hafsa? Can the two even be separated? How entrenched is the individual in the politics and practice of his institution? Is there a linear relationship between madressas and militancy? Is reform of madressas simply a lofty, unattainable ideal?

–Ayesha Siddiqa, 2015.

Madressas are one of the biggest unregulated sectors in Pakistan, with scholars estimating 16,000 to 20,000 registered madressas operating in the country. The absence of an immediate alternative to madressas tends to make both the state and a burgeoning civil society shy away from actively engaging with the process of reforms. Perhaps, this should in fact be a starting point for discussions on madressas and militancy in Pakistan. While not all seminaries are bad, those representing a certain ideology are troublesome. In all place, the state has a “better safe than sorry policy”, from capital punishment to hadood laws, but madrassas that are given the benefit of the doubt.

The ideal recipe, however, is not closing down madressas altogether, mainly because the government lacks the infrastructure, and perhaps the commitment, to replace seminaries with something else. There is a need for reforming the syllabi, but that is not possible without a system of accountability of religious seminaries and engaging them in a dialogue first.