Pakistani religious parties refuse registration drive
KARACHI, July 4 (AFP) - Pakistan's Islamist parties on Tuesday accused military ruler General Pervez Musharraf of caving in to US pressure over alleged terrorism and vowed to resist a drive to register religious schools.
Leaders of the powerful religious lobby said the seminaries had refused to fill out the government's registration forms and rejected claims that they are breeding grounds for terrorists as US and Indian propaganda.
"All the four major groups of Islamic seminaries rejected the survey forms sent by the ministry of interior as we feel this excerise is being carried out on US directives," Shah Ahmed Noorani, chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), told AFP.
"Once the US used the word 'mujahideen' for those who were fighting against the Soviets (in Afghanistan) and now they're calling the same people 'terrorists'."
US Consul General John Bennett rejected the comparrison between the mujahideen who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 and the "militants" in Pakistan now.
He said the "situation in Afghanistan at the time of the Soivets was different but now these groups need to be de-weaponised and the Pakistan government is aware of these difficulties," he told a press conference.
Bennett said Washington was concerned about "reports" that the religious schools, called madrassas, were being used as "training grounds for creating militants or teaching jihad."
The eight-month-old military regime in Pakistan has begun documenting the thousands of madrassas here in response to mounting international concern -- from Washington, the Middle East and Central Asia -- over religious zealotry and fundamentalism in Pakistan.
Washington wants Pakistan to help convince the fundamentalist Taliban militia ruling Afghanistan to hand over alleged terrorist supremo Osama bin Laden, accused of plotting the US embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.
India says Islamic guerrillas fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir receive training at the Islamic seminaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But Tuesday's statements from the religious leaders show they are in no mood to cooperate, especially after their victory earlier this year when they forced the regime to backpeddle on plans to soften harsh blasphemy laws.
"Our government is playing into their hands and wants to introduce secular education," said Noorani.
Interior ministry officials claim to have registered some 400 madrassas this year and are trying to encourage them to move away from purely Koranic scholarship to more "mainstream" education.
Fazlur Rehman, president of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), met Musharraf on Monday and said the general raised the "bad reports" about the religious schools.
"Musharraf agreed that most of these schools are playing a positive role but there are bad reports about some of them," Rehman said.
"I suggested to the chief executive that investigations of such schools should be conducted by the ministry of religious affairs instead of the intelligence agencies because their reports were not correct."
Rehman also blamed non-governmental organisations for spreading "propaganda" against the schools.
There are around 3,000 madrassas in Pakistan with over 50,000 students, a JUP official said.
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