ISLAMABAD - The federal government has failed to make progress on madrassa reforms, an important point of National Action Plan (NAP) on Counter Terrorism, as the Ministry of Interior and major representative bodies of the madrassas are at a standstill on the issue of their registration.

Madrassa (religious seminaries) reforms is one the 20 points of the NAP announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last year after the December 16 deadly terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar.

Even after 10 months of the announcement of NAP, the federal government has even failed to start process of registration of madrassas throughout the country, a basic point to introduce reforms in seminaries.

According to rough figures collected by the Ministry of Interior, around 30 million students study in 18,000 madrassas in the country that are being run under Ittehad-e-Tanzeematul Madaris (ITM), a body of madrassas representing five major schools of thought.

The federal government had held an important meeting in the first week of September 2015 with Ittehad-e-Tanzeematul Madaris (ITM) to remove all hindrances in the way of madrassa reforms. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself had chaired the final phase of meeting while Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt-General Rizwan Akhtar and Interior Minister Chaudhry Niasr Ali Khan were also among prominent participants.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while addressing a press conference after the meeting, had said ITM had agreed to the government’s stance of registration of madrassas. A committee having representatives of ITM and the departments concerned, headed by the interior secretary, had been formed to finalise a registration form of seminaries, the minister had said.

Hafiz Abdul Quddoos, a representative of Wafaqul Madaris, a body of religious seminaries, said, “There is no progress on the finalisation of registration form of seminaries.” He said the government and madrassa representatives had agreed to constitute a working committee for finalising registration form but there had so far been no progress on it. He said finalisation of registration forms would be the first step towards madrassa reforms and it was a basic point to initiate the whole process.

Qari Hanif Jalandhry, a representative of Ittehad-e-Tanzeematul Madaris, while talking to The Nation, said, “We will start proper work on the finalisation of registration form after Yaum-e-Ashur (10th of Muharramul Haram). He, however, refused to divulge whether ITM had held any meeting with the interior secretary or other senior officers of the ministry in this connection. “That is enough whatever I have stated,” he said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in the September 7 meeting, had tasked the Ministry of Interior to oversee the issues related to the madrassa reform. Prior to this, the Ministry of Religious Affairs was the key ministry that had been negotiating with the representative bodies of seminaries on this issue. But the matter could not be resolved.

An official of the Ministry of Interior, wishing anonymity, said they would soon start important meetings with the representative bodies of seminaries to finalise registration form. He admitted there was little progress on the issue.

The finalisation of registration form has remained a major hurdle in the way of madrassa reforms in the past as the government and the representative bodies of seminaries could never reach a consensus on it. The madrassa bodies want that some important points that the government otherwise thinks significant should not be included in the registration form.

“The government has agreed that madrassas should be allowed to open bank accounts and make transactions through banks in an effort to ensure transparency,” Nisar had also said during his September 7 press conference. He had also said the government would evolve a mechanism to streamline foreign funding to seminaries. Prior to this, banks were not allowing seminaries to open bank accounts.

Nisar had averred ITM representatives were willing to get seminaries registered and have their accounts audited. He had also added that there was a consensus that the procedure should be simplified. He had stated that another committee, comprising federal as well as provincial authorities of education ministries and ITM, had been formed to bring reforms in curriculum of madrassas.

The issue of madrassa reforms has been pending since the Musharraf regime when the then government signed an agreement in 2005 with the representative bodies of madrassas. But this agreement could never be implemented. The last PPP regime had signed another agreement to bring madrassa reforms but this could not give fruitful results.