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Pakistan madrassas 'do not stoke militancy'.

WASHINGTON, June 25 -- Pakistan desperately needs more schools to curb extremism, but madrassas are not the main problem, a US study said on Wednesday.

The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, estimated that fewer than 10 percent of Pakistani students attended madrassas and the number of such militant seminaries was not increasing.

Rebecca Winthrop, a Brookings fellow and co-author of the report, said more Pakistani parents preferred not sending children to school at all to enrolling them in madrassas.

"We do need to take the militant madrassa issue very, very seriously - in all likelihood they should probably be shut down," she said at the launch of the report.

But she added: "We should really leave the question of the role of Islam in the Pakistan education system to the Pakistanis to debate. This is not something that I think is fruitful if outsiders - us here in the US - start weighing in on."."

The study found that a more urgent priority was to increase the supply of schools in Pakistan, whose literacy rate of 56 percent is among the lowest outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Winthrop quoted one estimate that if Pakistan boosted primary school enrolment from the present two-thirds of children to the world average of 87 percent, the country's risk of conflict would decrease by three-quarters.

But the study found that Pakistani public schools also needed major improvement, with many now failing to teach basic skills and "instilling hostility towards Indians".

According to the report, the rise of militancy in Pakistan during 2008 and 2009 and the resulting military operation in the Swat valley can be traced back to the inculcation of radical ideologies among the youth in the tribal region.

The report states that the strategy of 'draining the swamp' by establishing sparkling government schools alongside madrassas, which appears to be the current approach from development donors, is likely to have limited success. "Madrassas will immediately resort to a defensive strategy of labeling the government schools in conspiratorial terms and still be able to recruit students quite zealously from religious families," the report said.

The study states that the only way to resolve the madrassa problem was to engage in a process of reform focused on pluralism and conflict resolution skills.

This report aims to provide recommendations to the Pakistani government and civil society as well as to US policymakers and the international donor community on madrassas in Pakistan.

The report noted that some of the more prominent madrassas are located in urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, or in southern Punjab. "Unlike the relatively "lawless" tribal areas, these madrassas exist in areas where the writ of the Pakistani government remains fairly strong," the report said.

The report said that students from even the tribal areas and remote parts the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are often sent to these madrassas for schooling.

This means that a reform strategy presented in this policy brief is clearly implementable within the current dynamics of Pakistani state control, the report said.

The US Congress last year approved a five-year, $7.5 billion plan aimed at building schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions in Pakistan.

"Nowhere is it more important to focus our educational resources and ensure that our partners are engaged and determined to get it right than in Pakistan," said Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who heads the House subcommittee that approves funding for foreign operations.

Some previous studies have put madrassa enrolment higher. The US commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 attacks warned in its final report that some madrassas have become "incubators for violent extremism." agencies

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Daily Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at htsyndication@hindustantimes.com

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Publication:Daily Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 25, 2010
Words:627
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