Archive for February 21, 2012

Poor law and order and the recent political violence in Karachi have enabled banned sectarian outfits to re-surface with renewed vengeance

By Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 5 ,2012

The News on Sunday

A wave of killings on sectarian grounds continues to plague Karachi as several people, especially lawyers, were targeted in the city during January this year.

On Jan 25, three Shia lawyers, Badar Munir Jaffery, Kafeel Jaffery and Shakeel Jaffery, were gunned down near Pakistan Chowk area. Similarly, on Jan 24, two legal advisors to Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), identified as Muhammad Ali alias Mama and Noman, fell victim to target killings. Another senior lawyer Maqbool-ur-Rehman, a legal advisor to ASWJ, was killed in an attack on New MA Jinnah Road on Jan 11. Rehman had fought cases of activists belonging to the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). On Dec 31, Askari Raza, a legal advisor to Pasban-e-Jaferia, was shot dead in Gulshan-e-Iqbal.

Besides the lawyers, Taseer Abbas Zaidi, brother of famous noha Khawan Raza Abbas, was shot dead on Jan 30 in FB area. On Jan 28, Jaffar Mohsin Rizvi, a trustee of the Imambargha Aal-e-Aba, was gunned down outside his residence in Gulberg area.

“The militants are mainly targeting the lawyers who are fighting the cases of activists of their rival sectarian groups,” claims a leader of Karachi Bar Association (KBA), adding that the killings of lawyers on sectarian grounds have created fear among the legal fraternity.

This was also corroborated by a senior police official at Criminal Investigation Department (CID), who is of view that banned sectarian outfits, especially Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP), have become active in the city and targeting people, especially lawyers and doctors, of rival sects. Banned sectarian outfits are taking advantage of the existing ethnic and political violence to kill each other’s workers and sympathisers, he says. It is pertinent to mention that in 2011, dozens of doctors were killed in the city on sectarian basis.

“In fact, we were busy in cracking down against other militant groups linked with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) like Al-Mukhtar group and Punjabi Taliban and succeeded to shatter their network in the city to a great extent, but now we have shifted our focus on these banned sectarian outfits in the city,” says the CID official, adding that higher authorities have ordered police officials to stop the ongoing killings.

Rehman Malik, Federal Interior Minister, had said that terrorists from Gilgit and Miramshah have become operational in Karachi to destabilise the law and order situation in the metropolis.

Political experts believe that sectarian violence has reached an alarming level in Karachi and the victims include members of the Deobandi and Shia sects. As many as 111 sectarian-related terrorist attacks, including five suicide attacks, were reported in Pakistan in 2011, killing 314 people and injuring 459, according to Pakistan Security Report 2011, prepared by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank. The report further states that Karachi was the worst-hit city with 36 attacks, about 32 per cent of the total sectarian-related attacks in Pakistan, killing 58 people and injuring another 58. The report also states that the overall incidences of sectarian violence in the country decreased significantly in 2011, but the ratio of casualties were concentrated in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Quetta.

Raees Ahmed, a security expert, believes that law-enforcement agencies have shattered those outfits’ network in Karachi in the past, but the recent political violence in the city has enabled them to re-surface there. He says a government ban on these sectarian organisations led them to operate under different names. “Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) began operating under the names of Millat-e-Islamia and ASWJ while the SMP started working as a new organisation with a different name. Similarly, other banned jihadi organisations like Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) is now working as al-Furqan and Khuddamul Islam, while Jamat-ud-Dawaa or Lashkar-e-Tayyaba as Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.”

Some analysts say that the May attack on Saudi Consulate in Karachi was also an effort to re-ignite Sunni-Shia discord in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. “The attack on the Saudi Consulate and the killing of its staffer clearly show that the fight for Bahrain has shifted to Pakistan and could ignite the decade-long Sunni-Shiite rivalry in the country, especially in Karachi”, Ahmed says. “Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have funded hardline Sunni militant groups like LeJ and SSP in Pakistan for years, angering the minority Shia community, while Iran has channeled money to Shia militant groups like the SMP.”

He says that in the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan was the scene of an effective proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Karachi being a bloody battleground in the struggle. “The involvement of hardline religious groups from Afghanistan in Pakistan’s internal affairs has further complicated the sectarian conflict.” Since 1989, sectarian fighting has engulfed the entire country, claiming nearly 7636 lives, mostly from the Shia community, according to statistics compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).

Law enforcement agencies have failed to nab 17 terrorists belonging to different banned sectarian outfits whose names are enlisted in ‘Red book’, a report published in Daily Jang, states. These terrorists include Syed Kashif Ali Shah a.k.a Shaheen (Judullah), Riaz a.k.a Afghani (LeJ), Syed Azhar Ali (SMP), Jamil Barmi a.k.a Qari Sahib (LeJ), Syed Asif Ali Zaidi (SMP), Fasi-uz-Zaman (Jundullah) and others.




By Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 17-23, 2012

After the former Northwest Frontier Province was renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through an amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan, the people of the Hazara region have carried out a series of protests calling for the creation of a new Hazara province.

A mock sign welcomes visitors to 'Hazara province'

“Our demand for the Hazara province is genuine and based on the aspirations of the Hazarewals (the people of Hazara), who have been facing discrimination for the last 65 years,” said Baba Haider Zaman, a veteran leader of the movement. He said many people had died for the cause, and warned his supporters would start a civil disobedience movement if their demands were not met. “If the Hazara province will not be created, no other provinces will be created.”

The Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa consists of six districts: Haripur, Abbotabad, Mansehra, Battagram, Kohistan and since January 2011, Torghar. The dominant language of the inhabitants of Haripur, Abbotabad and half of Mansehra is Hindko, while the people of Battagram and Torghar speak Pashto. Kohistan’s people speak their own Kohistani language.

Supporters of the cause say the division is a fertile region with forests, minerals, precious stones, and a great variety of natural resources that could support its independent existence.

Political analysts believe the movement for Hazara province is similar in many ways to the movement for a Seraiki province in Punjab.

Advocate Malik Asif, founder of Hazara Qaumi Mahaz, and Col (r) Abdul Razzaq, were among the first to demand a new Hazara province in the 1980s. But the Hazara political leadership did not take the matter seriously.

Hazara Division has traditionally been a stronghold of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), but locals see the party’s acceptance of new name of the former NWFP as a “grave betrayal”. Supporters of the call for Hazara province believe the PML-N has lost its popularity in the region, and the party that announces support for the Hazara province will win the next elections.

A PML-N leader said the movement had been “hijacked by PML-Q leaders who were comprehensively beaten by the PML-N in the previous elections”. He said Baba Haider Zaman, Goyar Ayub Khan, Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob, Sardar Yousaf and other such leaders were seeking votes on the basis of ethnicity and hatred. “They did not do anything for the development and welfare of the region when they were in power in the Pervez Musharraf regime,” he said. “The PML-N supports the Hazara province movement,” he added, “but the constitution and proper procedures must be followed.”

The recent resolution for a constitutional amendment tabled in the National Assembly by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to facilitate the creation of new provinces received a mixed response in Hazara Division.

“Other political parties have been playing politics on the issue, but the MQM has supported the wishes and aspirations of Hazarewals by bringing that resolution in the parliament,” Zaman said.

But the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly called MQM’s support for the Hazara province “a conspiracy” and condemned the resolution, in a meeting on January 5.

“The Awami National Party (ANP) waited 63 years to change the name of province, but followed proper procedure,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial information minister. “The MQM has violated Article 239 Clause 4 of the Constitution by brining a resolution into the NA.”

Javed Abbasi of the PML-N, Qalandar Lodhi of PML-Q, and Mufti Kifayatullah of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), all elected members of the assembly from Hazara division, also condemned the MQM move and termed it “against the law”.

“The MQM wants to make a new province consisting of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh,” the PML-N lawmaker said. “It wants to divide the Sindh province but couldn’t say it openly fearing strong public resentment in Sindh. They also wanted to attract political support from the people who want new provinces in Punjab and Sindh.”

Support is also surging for activists in the Pashtun-dominated districts of Hazara who want a new division called Abaseen. MPAs from Battagaram and Kohistan have already submitted resolutions for a separate division. “Kohistan, Battagram and the newly established Torghar districts have been ignored in development, and the people of these areas find it difficult to travel to the divisional headquarters in Abbottabad to resolve their problems,” said Engineer Sajjadullah Khan, an elected parliamentarian from Kohistan. “We are not opposing the formation of Hazara province but want a separate division for these three under-privileged and backward districts.”

The provincial government has completed all spadework for the proposed new division, including arrangement of revenue and other administrative departments. Notification of the move is likely in April, according to media reports.

“The population of Hazara division has been deeply divided over the renaming of the province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the Hindko-speaking population feeling that the province has been given an ethno-centric name that excludes them,” said Arshad Shah, a professor at Hazara University. He said the creation of Abaseen division may help ease that alienation. He also said that the difference of language was also a major barrier in communication between Pashtuns of Hazara’s upper districts and the Hindko-speaking Abbottabad.

Local activists complain the Pashtun areas of Hazara were ignored when Sardar Mehtab Abbassi and Pir Sabir Shah, from Abbottabad and Haripur respectively, were in power. Pashtun areas of Hazara are among the most backward districts in the country.

But some analysts believe the creation of the new division would hurt the movement for the Hazara province and also make the ANP more popular in areas traditionally seen as Muslim League strongholds. MPAs from Kohistan, Battagaram and Torghar either won on ANP tickets or joined the party after winning the elections.

The leaders of the Hazara province movement are opposing the creation of Abaseen Division. “We are strong supporters of creation of more tehsils, districts, divisions and provinces in the country to devolve powers to the people, but the creation of Abaseen Division is aimed at dividing the people of Hazara,” said Shehzada Gastasap Khan, a leader of the movement and former opposition leader in the provincial assembly. “If Hazara can be divided into two divisions, why can Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not be divided into two provinces?”

Baba Haider Zaman registered Tehrik-e-Sooba Hazara (TSH) as a political party in July last year and asked politicians affiliated with the movement to join the party. The move annoyed several key leaders of the movement who belonged to the PML-Q, an ally of the government. Subsequently, they formed a breakaway faction called Tehrik-e-Hazara Sooba (THS). The leaders of THS include Sardar Yousuf, his son State Minister Sardar Shahjehan Yousuf, Prime Minister’s Advisor Qasim Shah, and others. Hazara Qaumi Jirga is another split faction with reported patronage of the MQM, which seeks to woo Hazarewal voters in Karachi, local observers say.




By Zia Ur Rehman

Jan 27-Feb 2, 2012

“Any given society is represented by various schools of thoughts that take the form of ideologies. They represent the mechanisms through which individuals, ethnicities or nations attempt to adapt or respond to the constantly changing environment,” says Arif Ansar, a security expert associated with Politact, a Washington based think tank. “But the important thing to consider is what is perceived as causing the change. Because that has an influence on the type of response that is formulated.”

In the last two or three centuries, he says, changes in the Pashtun environment have come from external sources. They were considered intrusions and fiercely resisted. “Some of these responses include the resistance of Afghan Taliban against the US, the Mujahideen against the Russains, and before that, the resistance against the British.”

Although references are often made to events of Pashtun resistance from the past, especially the Faqir of Ipi, Mullah Powindah and Pir Roshan, says Raees Ahmed, a Pashtun university professor from Quetta, those historical figures had a strong Pashtun nationalistic bias and they were not known for targeting their own people.

“Foreign militants, especially Arabs, Uzbeks and Punjabis have introduced such inhumane and unIslamic trends as beheadings, suicide bombings, attacking mosques or hujras (guest houses) and flogging women,” said Idress Kamal, a leader of Aman Tehrik, a civil society alliance in Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

“Ethnically, the Taliban are not a Pashtun homogeneous group,” Kamal said. “They are an amalgamation of different jiahdi groups hailing from various ethnicities and nations, and prominent among them are more ideological Punjab-based jihadi outfits.

After 9/11, religious groups such as the Difa-e-Afghanistan Council, an alliance that included key religious parties, were urging people to join hands with the Afghan Taliban because they were Pashtuns. “Thousands of people from Malakand division and Bajaur agency went to Afghanistan under the leadership of Sufi Muhammad, head of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, and were either killed, arrested or are still missing. But Sufi Muhammad and a dozen of his men came back safely to Pakistam,” said an elder of the Salarzai tribe of Bajaur.

“Pashtuns of Pakistan have always rejected religious extremism,” said an ANP provincial leader. “The last elections show that they are liberal, progressive people and their leadership is predominately anti-Taliban.”

“At least 360 elders and fighters of the Salarzai clan have been killed while battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Bajaur,” the tribal leader said. “We are peaceful people and our elders have rendered sacrifices to save our motherland and the Pashtun society from these dark forces,” he said. He denied reports int he media that Al Qaeda and other terrorist leaders were given refuse in the tribal areas in line with the Pashtunwali code.

Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based political analyst, says it is a fact that an overwhelming majority of Afghan Taliban are Pashtuns, and “the excesses of the militants belonging to Northern Alliance, an alliance of non-Pashtun jihadi groups in Afghanistan, is the main reason behind it”.

Former leaders of Khalaq and Parcham factions of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had tried to influence the Taliban into thinking about Pashtun nationalism and had succeeded in convincing them to make Pashto the country’s official language, he said. “But the Egyptian leadership of Al Qaeda wanted to turn the Taliban into an international Wahabi movement rather than a local Pashtun resistance movement.”

By Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 03-09, 2012

Although Sufi shrines have frequently been the targets of terrorist attacks in the entire country, the Pashtun regions (consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Pakistani tribal areas, and adjacent regions in Afghanistan) have witnessed a significant rise in such attacks in the last five years.

Locals gather at the bombed shrine of Sufi poet Rehman Baba

In the most recent attacks, Taliban targeted the shrines of Sufi saints Sheikh Nisa Baba and Sheikh Bahadur Baba in Khyber Agency on December 11. They also killed the caretaker of the shrine of another saint Baisai Baba in the same tribal agency.

At least 56 people were killed in a suicide attack at the gate of Abul Fazil’s shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan, on December 7. All the victims were Shia mourners and a majority of them were children.

Sufism has a deep influence on the Pashtun society and a large number of Sufi shrines dot the landscape of Pashtun dominated areas. Sahibzada Amir Muhammad, a Kabul-based Sufi preacher, claims that although suppressed by the Taliban, Sufism is re-emerging in Afghanistan.

“Thousands of Arab militants who arrived in Afghanistan under the leadership of Al Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden brought with them foreign ideologies, especially Wahabism,” he said. Wahabism’s hard-line interpretation of Islam sees Sufism and its practices as un-Islamic. During the five-year rule of the Taliban, many Sufis and their followers were compelled to go underground or abandon their faith, he added. The December 7 attack comes despite orders by Taliban supreme commander Mullah Omar not to attack civilians, and indicates Al Qaeda-linked militants are not under his direct operational control.

Security experts and Sufi leaders in Pakistan also link the attacks on Sufi shrines with the arrival of Arab militants in Afghanistan and their alliance with Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. A large number of madrassas funded by donors in Arab countries are also seen to be in conflict with local Sufi Islam. The Taliban see the attacks on shrines and other cultural symbols as attempts at constructing a new culture and a new identity.

The attacks began many years ago with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Islam’s targeting of tombs of great Sufi saints in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The shrines of Hazrat Rehman Baba, Abdul Shakoor Malang Baba, Hazrat Abu Saeed Baba, Mian Umer Baba and Malang Baba were attacked and desecrated, while that of Hazrat Sayyad Ali Tirmizi, commonly known as Pir Baba in Buner, was locked. The mausoleum of famous freedom fighter Haji Sahib Tarangzai in Mohmand Agency was captured and converted into Taliban headquarters.

Soon the militants also started targeting shrines in urban Pakistan. These attacks were timed and planned to kill as many devotees as possible. More than 25 shrines across the country have been attacked since 2005, and 200 devotees have been killed. In July 2010, the shrine of Sufi saint Data Ganj Baksh Hajveri in Lahore was attacked by two suicide bombers. At least 45 devotees were killed and dozens others injured. A suicide attack on the shrine of Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi killed another nine people in October 2010. An attack on Baba Farid Shakarganj’s shrine in Pakpattan in October that year left another seven people dead.

The March 5, 2009 attack on the mausoleum of Rehman Baba, a revered Pashto Sufi poet of the 17th century, was widely condemned in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Thousands of people visited the shrine after the bombing. Many were seen weeping. A day after the attack on Rehman Baba’s tomb, the shrine of another revered spiritual figure, Bahadur Baba, was targeted by missiles.

“They are desecrating the graves of Sufi saints and poets loved by Pashtuns and it is an attempt to provoke them,” says Yousaf Ali Dilsoz, president of Rehman Baba Adabi Jirga. “Those Sufis are icons of Pashtun spirituality and their love for peace and tolerance is a guiding principle for all of us. The militants want to destroy our identity. They present Pashtuns to the world as an uncivilized nation.”

“Sufi saints like Rehman Baba are symbols of pluralism and collective aesthetics of the Pashtun society,” said Khadim Hussain, a political expert and director of Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation. “Several militant ideologues have been making consistent efforts to impose a single interpretation of religion on the entire Muslim world.”

Almost all attacks on shrines in Khyber Agency and Peshawar have been claimed by Lashkar-e-Islam, a Khyber agency-based militant group that follows Deobandi and Panjpiri creeds. Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, an adherent of Sufism living in Landi Kotal, has been elected from Khyber Agency twice, although most locals belong to the Deobandi school of thought. “That clearly shows that Pashtuns respect the adherents of Sufism and have nothing to do with the attacks against them,” a local tribal elder said. Qadri’s three close relatives – brother Humayun Qadri, cousin Nooruddin Qadri and uncle Abdul Azeem Qadri – were killed by militants on April 21, 2008. Their graves were desecrated.

Muhammad Fayyaz Khan, a central leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said despite the recent attacks on Sufi shrines, security has not been improved. “Devotees are concerned about their safety when they visit the shrines especially in the mountainous areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The caretakers and other people associated with the shrines are being threatened by the militants.”

By Zia Ur Rehman

Jan 25, 2012

KARACHI – Law enforcement agencies have shattered the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allied groups, especially the Al-Mukhtar group and Punjabi Taliban, in Karachi to a great extent, Chaudhry Aslam, head of the Anti-Extremism Cell (AEC) of the Karachi police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), told Central Asia Online in an exclusive interview.

”]Aslam is noted for his tough measures against militant outfits and criminal gangs in the city. Under his supervision, the CID since 2008 has arrested dozens of militants planning attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of them belonged to the TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Afghan Taliban or other banned militant outfits.

Hounded by military operations in the tribal areas, TTP militants are increasingly moving to Karachi, where they obtain logistical and manpower support from militant organisations already established in the city, he said.

In 2011, Karachi police arrested 222 militants, the majority of them involved in beheading civilians, attacking security forces and police, destroying private property and committing other crimes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas, Aslam told Central Asia Online.

”]“After the arrest of TTP Karachi head Akhter Zaman in October 2009, the organisational setup of TTP was largely broken,” he said. Zaman was involved in a failed terrorist attack on the Kemari Oil Terminal September 14, 2009. That attack was meant to avenge TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in an August 2009 air strike, he said.

Most recently, the AEC arrested and seized arms from suspected TTP terrorist Muhammad Dawood (aka Waleed) in Mawach Goth January 14, Aslam said. Dawood confessed to masterminding a 2010 attack on the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine, Aslam said.

Little-known militant groups operating in Karachi

The CID has found several small, previously unknown militant outfits operating in Karachi, said Aslam. Those groups include Punjabi Taliban, the Badar Mansoor group of the TTP, the Al-Mukhtar Group and Jundullah.

The TTP has been splintering into smaller cells because of successful efforts by law enforcement against it, Central Asia Online reported June 24.

“It is the TTP’s strategy to operate in Karachi in smaller cells to dodge law enforcement agencies longer,” he said. “The cells are so small and so scattered, they are discovered only when law enforcement agencies arrest their members.”

Zaman’s arrest harmed the TTP badly in Karachi, he said, and the militants started to work with Karachi-based militant groups, especially Laskhar-e-Jhangvi and Jundullah.

Out of 42 Karachi terrorist attacks in 2011, the Al-Mukhtar Group carried out nine, he said. However, after the December arrest of their suspected Karachi leader Asghar alias Omar, the CID has done much to shatter its network, he added.

Aslam also described the crimes of the Punjabi Taliban, saying it recruited young boys to commit suicide bombings in Waziristan. The CID June 26 arrested Abdul Razzaq (alias Omar) and Rashid Iqbal (alias Basit), whom authorities accuse of recruiting juvenile bombers. The pair allegedly sent six teenage boys to Waziristan in 2009: an aerial strike on a training camp killed four of the boys, while the Karachi CID arrested the other two.

Attemps on Aslam’s life :

Aslam’s relentlessness has not endeared him to the terrorists.

Militants attacked Aslam’s house September 19 after repeatedly failing to kill him at his office. That car bombing killed at least eight people.

“Aslam was on our hit list, and he is still on our hit list,” Ihsanullah Ihsan, a TTP spokesman, told media as he claimed responsibility for the attack.

Aslam survived an even bigger car bombing in November 2010, which killed at least 30 people and destroyed the main CID office in Karachi. Aslam and three other CID senior officials – Fayyaz Khan, Omar Shahid and Mazhar Mashwani – reportedly were the main targets. They all survived.

Aslam has vowed to carry on his mission of eliminating the Taliban in Karachi. “They are cowards,” he said of the Taliban. “They call themselves Muslims, but they, in fact, have nothing to do with Islam.”

Regarding the attempts on his life, he said, “Such cowardly acts do not frighten me.”

Zia Ur Rehman

Jan 5, 2012

KARACHI – Following the December 12 rescue of 56 shackled students from the basement of the Madrassa al Arabia al Uloom, near Afghan Basti in Karachi, the Pakistani government plans to take strict action against unregistered madrassas.

A report regarding madrassas in Karachi prepared by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in January 2011 revealed that 736 unregistered madrassas were operating in the city, Dawn reported December 14.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared in Islamabad December 19 that madrassas not registered with any of the governing bodies of religious seminaries by January 1 would be considered illegal.

Pakistan has five major governing bodies of madrassas for the various Islamic schools of thought: Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Deobandi), Tanzim-ul-Madaras (Brelvi), Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Ahle Hadith), Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Shia) and Rabita-ul-Madaras (Jammat-e-Islami), said Mufti Zia ul Islam, a Karachi-based religious scholar. Ittehad Tanzimat Madaris-e-Deeniya is a federation of the five wafaqs in Pakistan, Islam said.

The Madrassa al Arabia, where the students were detained, lacks any registration, said Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, an official at Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Deobandi).

“Our organisation has more than 14,000 registered madrassas across the country, which are under complete checks and they have a proper code of conduct of teaching and schooling,” said Jalandhari. Seminaries under the four other bodies also follow proper codes, he said.

The Sindh Assembly on December 16 condemned the torture of students and demanded monitoring of seminary activities.

Police have orders to investigate the madrassa accused of torturing students, Provincial Home Minister Manzoor Wasan told the assembly. The investigation committee includes the chiefs of the Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gadap and Sohrab Goth police stations, he said.

Mufti Dawood, the administrator of the seminary, escaped and is still at large, Wasan said.

Police will look for unregistered schools and will investigate whether any other religious schools are involved in such unlawful activity, Wasan said.

Seven of the 56 rescued children have been sent to the Edhi Foundation, a charity that looks after poor children, Wasan said. The other freed students have returned to their homes.

Civil Society Worried

Civil society and child rights organisations are concerned over the growth of unregistered madrassas in Sindh and have been urging the government to curb violence against children, especially in seminaries.

No accurate count of unregistered seminaries exists, but Sindh has more than 500, Abdul Waheed, head of the Bright Educational Society, a Karachi NGO working on education-related issues, told Central Asia Online.

“The Karachi madrassa incident highlights both the failure of madrassa reform and the need to restart the process of registering and monitoring these religious schools,” Waheed said.

The parents paid the seminary to “treat their children through a system of Islamic instruction,” Waheed, who interviewed parents of 10 youths, said, adding that generally the parents enrolled the students in the madrassa without the children’s consent.

PIPS Initiative

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based advocacy think tank, has started offering training for students and teachers of religious seminaries.

“Our key objective is to explore and enhance the role of Ulema scholars and students in promotion of peace and harmony in society,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of PIPS.

PIPS, with the help of a 13-member Ulema Advisory Board of religious scholars representing all wafaqs in Pakistan, started offering a variety of educational activities September 19 and has worked with religious scholars, editors of religious publications, and madrassa students and teachers in Islamabad, Rana told Central Asia Online.

“Our engagement with religious scholars found that they are eager to play their role at the national and regional level to work for peace and harmony in society,” he said, adding that they agree that discouraging all manner of violent tendencies in the society is a collective responsibility.

More than 300 madrassa students attended a one-day workshop October 24 in Karachi to introduce them to a modern state and its institutions, the role of the education system and media, and the importance of civil education, democracy and religious harmony.

“The key purpose of such educational activities is … to investigate what could be the causes of anarchy and terrorism in the country and how religious scholars can play their due role in eliminating it,” Mufti-Munib ur Rehman, a religious scholar, told Central Asia Online.

“Instead of blaming the West, we should try to focus on our weaknesses and we should re-think our fragile strategies,” said Rehman, who also chairs the central moon-sighting Roet-e-Hilal Committee. “Religious scholars could discourage ethnic and racial division and terrorism and should tell the people that all are equal in Islam, which is a religion of peace and love.”

Students attending the seminar listened to lectures and participated in question-and-answer sessions where religious scholars tried to remove their misconceptions about religious harmony, peace and terrorism, said Rehman.

“There is a little interaction among the different religious sects that causes mutual misperception and hostility to grow,” said Qari Hazrat Ali, a student of Jamia Banoria Al-Alamia, a religious school that teaches Deobandi thought.

“This training provided an opportunity to madrassa students belonging to different religious sects to sit together and talk on different issues, which has indeed clarified much confusion found among the students,” said Umair Qadri, a student of a madrassa that teaches Brelvi thought.