LAHORE - Registration and regulation of religious schools or Madrassas was the 10th point of the National Action Plan, drafted in the wake of the deadliest assault on APS Peshawar in December, 2014. Despite the lapse of one and a half year, authorities are unable to achieve their goals.

Reforms in religious schools and de-radicalisation programme for militants of banned outfits were salient features of the initiative launched in January 2015. Initially, the project was moving slowly but it was almost shelved after the martyrdom of Punjab home minister Colonel (r) Shuja Khanzada, last year.

In the first phase of the plan, hundreds of Afghan trained boys and members of some banned outfits were successfully brought to normal life in the province. But the next phase could not be launched due to unknown reasons.

The Punjab Police, during previous year, had completed registration and geo-tagging of all the 13,754 religious schools located in the province. However, experts argue only the registration of Madrassas is not enough.

The provincial government put under surveillance some 1600 clerics of different schools of thought from all over the province, making it mandatory for them to register their attendance with area police regularly. Not enough, as part of the NAP, the government had decided to fit these 1600 hard-line clerics with microchip bracelets. But the authorities had deferred the plan secretly after the religious leaders denounced the rulers for introducing what they called “liberal laws” in a conservative society.

The idea to put electronic microchip bracelets on firebrand clerics was deferred because of strong criticism from religious circles that staged countrywide protests to condemn the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. They also criticised the rulers in Punjab for introducing new laws to protect women against violence.

As many as 1585 clerics had been put on the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terror Act in the Punjab province early last year. The fourth schedule is a section of the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) under which someone suspected of involvement in terrorism is kept under observation; it is mandatory for him to register his attendance with the local police regularly.

Most of the religious leaders placed on the Fourth Schedule in the province belonged to Deoband sect, followed by Shias. At least 1250 Deoband clerics, 268 Shia, 33 Ahle-Hadith, and 24 Brailvi were put on the 4th Schedule. The Bahawalpur region tops the list with 294 clerics placed on the Fourth Schedule of the anti-terrorism laws. At least 254 clerics in Rawalpindi, 250 in Faisalabad, and 204 in Sargodha police regions are placed on the list.

The Punjab Information Technology Board has also failed to provide “suitable bracelets” to the police department so far. On the other hand, a Punjab government official said the plan was deferred by the rulers because of strong backlash.

In 2015, PITB had designed a microchip device at the rate of Rs 25,000 per piece. But the sample was rejected by the police. The authorities wanted to use silicon bracelets as part of the scheme to ensure round-the-clock monitoring of the movement and behaviours of fourth schedulers. This method of tracking individuals is also in response to the call for increased security in the country, which has been battling militancy since years.

The government’s plan to fit firebrand clerics with microchip bracelets for tracking their location had sparked concern among religious circles because the technology could have privacy implications.

According to the proposed de-radicalisation plan, in addition to the Fourth schedulers, the militants or extremists of banned outfits had to undergo a 9-month programme involving psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts of military services.

The programme was developed to deal with the people who had been drawn into violent extremism. The plan was needed to help bring back those who had ‘crossed the line’ in terms of ideology and viewpoint. And those who will refuse or oppose the scheme will be considered as militants or accomplices of the militants.

Hundreds of radical clerics had been identified across the Punjab, who would have to pass through the de-radicalisation process. Various law enforcement agencies including the Punjab Police, Special Branch, an intelligence wing of the police, and jail authorities prepared the lists of all radical clerics after months-long homework. The lists were prepared at union council and police station level, keeping in view affiliation of the clerics with militant or religious organisations, their criminal record, and other suspicious activities.

As per the proposed strategy, former militants would be urged to develop technical skills so that they could get long-lasting employment. The experts would also try to reverse the ‘brainwashing’ by militants who propagate war against the fellow Muslims and countrymen. The religious leaders would help government change state of the mind of former militants, who may still be recruited by militants because they are jobless and idle.

The process would not only help security agencies thwart possible recruitments of youth in banned militant outfits but would also enable the government to identify those involved in anti-state activities. But the projects were shelved once and for all.

It is high time that the government must do something to counter the brainwashing. The graduates of religious schools should be given job opportunities and the syllabus should be reformed. Similarly, the prayer leaders should be employed by the government. The government should also take some steps to win the confidence of religious circles.