Pakistan Moves to Ban Teaching of Extremism at Islamic Schools

Pakistan's religious affairs minister said Thursday the government would soon pass laws banning the teaching of militancy and extremism at the nation's 8,000 Islamic religious schools.

Clerics found to be involved in fanning sectarian hatred and extremism in the schools, known as madrassas, would face prison terms of two years, said Dr. Mehmood Ghazi.

"Under the new laws, to be enacted soon, no madrassas will be allowed to indulge in militancy," Ghazi told reporters.

The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by Pakistan's military-led government to rein in religious extremists. On Wednesday, the government said all madrassas, long considered a breeding ground for Islamic extremism, would have to register with an oversight board or face closure.

Many senior officials of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime graduated from madrassas in Pakistan, and hundreds of students went to Afghanistan last year to fight alongside the Islamic militia against the U.S.-led coalition.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has promised both the United States and rival India to prevent militants from causing chaos in disputed Kashmir to the east, Afghanistan to the west and in Pakistan itself.

His actions have angered conservative Islamic groups within Pakistan, who say he has sold out to the West in order to maintain power. Musharraf says his moves against militants are for the good of all Pakistan.

At Thursday's news conference, Ghazi said the government considered Muslims' struggle for independence in Indian-controlled Kashmir to be jihad, or Islamic holy war, but Pakistanis should not take part without permission.

"The ongoing movement in Indian-part of Kashmir is jihad, but nobody is allowed to join it from Pakistan without getting permission from the government," Ghazi said.

"Jihad without the government's permission becomes chaos," he said.

Pakistan's dispute with India pushed the nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war in recent weeks. The main flash point is Kashmir, which both nations claim as their own and over which they have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

The government plans to release $250 million to Islamic schools during the next three years but says madrassas involved in militancy will be ineligible for financial help. Madrassas, which Ghazi said have about 1.7 million students, also receive financial support from private sources, including donors from the Gulf States.