Pakistan Targets Religious Schools That Preach Violence

With the Taliban reeling in defeat, Pakistan's military-led government plans to rein in the country's religious schools, state-funded institutions that sent thousands of young students to fight alongside the Islamic militia.

A new law boosts funding to Islamic schools, or madrassas, that adopt modern subjects, including science, computers, English and math. The government also plans to cut funding to those schools deemed to breed extremism and violence.

Most religious schools teach only Islamic subjects, including Islamic law and the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Most of the Taliban's leadership was educated in Pakistani madrassas during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The law was enacted in August, even before the terrorist attacks in the United States — allegedly masterminded by Usama bin Laden — and the military campaign against Afghanistan which the government here supported.

However, the Taliban's virtual defeat at the hands of the U.S.-led coalition and the fact that the groundswell of opposition to the Pakistani government never materialized has emboldened officials to push on with the plan.

Government officials said Friday they planned to establish a board to regulate and monitor the madrassas and to make sure their students don't indulge in violence. They also announced plans to set up three model Islamic schools as early as March.

"The move is aimed to integrate modern and religious education," said S.M. Zaman, chairman of a government agency that advises on religious policy.