Sunday 17 July 2005

Pakistan: Still Schooling Extremists

This is a piece I wrote with my Crisis Group colleague, Samina Ahmed, following the London 7/7 bombings, and which we published in The Washington Post on 17 July 2005.


Although investigations into the terrorist attacks in London are still at an early stage, it is already clear that at least one of the bombers attended a radical Islamic school, or madrasa, in Pakistan. For those in the West who believed President Pervez Musharraf's promises to clean up the militant religious schools, it is time to think again.

Shehzad Tanweer, who police say killed six people and himself on the Circle Line train near Aldgate station on July 7, recently spent as long as four months in a madrasa reportedly run by the avowedly militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba in Lahore, Pakistan. The madrasa and the organization operate freely despite an official ban on their activity since 2002.

Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, the link between Pakistan's religious education system and international terrorist organizations came under intense scrutiny. Musharraf clearly felt the pressure to be seen as doing something, and in January 2002 he gave a televised speech promising a series of measures to combat extremism by, among other things, bringing all madrasas into the mainstream. Musharraf pledged increased oversight of the religious schools through formal registration, control of their funding and standardization of their curricula.

The world welcomed those promises, but few then checked back to see if they were ever fulfilled.