In an apparent detachment from radical teachings promoted by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has agreed to introduce reforms in its so-called madrassa religious schools and bring the institutions in line with conventional schools by curbing hate speech and extremist narratives.
Pakistan’s Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood announced on Friday that the plan, agreed upon with the country’s clergy, is the latest effort to address longstanding concerns that the roughly 30,000 madrassas in Pakistan provide a haven for extremist teachings.
These institutions, mostly funded by Saudi Arabia, have long been blamed for promoting extremist narratives and are referred to as “nurseries of extremism” in some circles.
Mahmood said the Pakistani government aims to register all madrassas and furnish them with a curriculum based on conventional teaching in such subjects as English, mathematics and science.
“There will be no preaching of hate speech against any religion or sect,” the education minister said. “We will look at their curriculum to see there is no hatred against any sect or faith.”
Mahmood added that the government will be in charge of overseeing their exams and is aiming for a first batch next June.
Facing heavy international pressure to crack down on militant groups operating from Pakistani soil, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced plans earlier this year to “mainstream” the madrassas and stop feeding radicalized youth to armed extremist groups.
Madrassa reforms attempted by previous governments in Islamabad have all failed due to pressure from the clergy.
Back in March, Pakistan — a deeply religious Muslim-majority society — launched a crackdown against terrorist groups operating within its territory. The government later announced that 182 religious schools run by banned groups were shuttered and more than 120 people were detained.
Pakistani officials say the crackdown has been long-planned and is not a response to Indian concerns over Kashmir.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.
Indian troops are in constant clashes with armed groups seeking Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan. India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the restive frontier in an attempt to launch attacks. Pakistan strongly denies the allegation.