Unfulfilled Promises: Pakistan’s Failure to Tackle Extremism
Unfulfilled Promises: Pakistan’s Failure to Tackle Extremism
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Report / Asia 3 minutes

Unfulfilled Promises: Pakistan’s Failure to Tackle Extremism

It has been more than two years since President and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf pledged to reform Pakistani society by reversing the trend of Islamist extremism.

Executive Summary

It has been more than two years since President and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf pledged to reform Pakistani society by reversing the trend of Islamist extremism. In a televised speech, he promised a series of measures to combat extremism. One of the key issues was to bring all madrasas – the religious schools that educate many Pakistani children – into the mainstream and to increase scrutiny of them by controlling funding and curriculum.

President Musharraf’s call for an end to the promotion of an ideology of jihad was welcomed around the world. Two years on, however, the failure to deliver to any substantial degree on pledges to reform the madrasas and contain the growth of jihadi networks means that religious extremism in Pakistan continues to pose a threat to domestic, regional and international security.

Declaring that no institutions would be above the law, the government said it would:

  • register all madrasas so that it had a clear idea of which groups were running which schools;
  • regulate the curriculum so that all madrasas would adopt a government curriculum by the end of 2002;
  • stop the use of madrasas and mosques as centres for the spread of politically and religious inflammatory statements and publications; and
  • establish model madrasas that would provide modern, useful education and not promote extremism.

New rules were to be outlined in a presidential ordinance. “No individual, organisation or party will be allowed to break the law of the land,” Musharraf declared.

However, to date no such regulation has been promulgated. Most madrasas remain unregistered. No national syllabus has been developed. No rules on funding of madrasas have been adopted. The government has repeated the rhetoric of mainstreaming madrasa education on many occasions but has pledged that it will not interfere in the affairs of those schools. While three model madrasas have been set up and have enrolled around 300 students, as many as 1.5 million students attend unregulated madrasas.

President Musharraf had promised to crack down on terrorism and end the jihadi culture in Pakistan. He declared that no organisation would be allowed to indulge in terrorism in India-administered Kashmir. While several Pakistani groups were banned, their leaders were not prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism Act. One extremist leader was allowed to run for parliament and indeed won a seat though more than twenty charges of violent crimes were pending against him. Many secular politicians were disqualified for much less, including not having a higher education. Banned groups were allowed to continue working under new identities with the same leadership. Many, though banned a second time in November 2003, continue to function unhindered and are likely to resurface under new names again.

The government has done very little to implement tougher controls on financing of either madrasas or extremist groups despite obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1373. It has failed to pass the necessary laws, even removing the issue of terrorism funding from draft regulations on money laundering on the misleading claim that it was already covered under an earlier law on terrorism.

Pakistan’s laws on terrorism and extremist groups remain muddled and opaque. While the government claims to be tackling terrorism, it has taken almost no steps towards restricting the extremism that permeates parts of the society. Even al Qaeda was not officially banned until March 2003.

Musharraf’s failure owes less to the difficulty of implementing reforms than to the military government’s own unwillingness. Indeed, he is following the pattern of the country’s previous military rulers in co-opting religious extremists to support his government’s agenda and to neutralise his secular political opposition. Far from combating extremism, the military government has promoted it through its electoral policies and its failure to implement effective reform. Whatever measures have so far been taken against extremism have been largely cosmetic, to ease international pressure.

Government inaction has resulted in a resurgence of domestic extremism, including sectarian violence. The failure to penetrate and crack down on terrorist networks is evident in two assassination attempts against President Musharraf himself in December 2003. The jihads in Kashmir and Afghanistan, which in different degrees owe much to support from within Pakistan, remain threats to regional peace. Reliant even more than in the past on the religious right for regime survival after the passage of the Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment with the MMA’s support, Musharraf remains unlikely to take the decisive actions against domestic jihadis and jihadi madrasas he pledged in January 2002 and has reiterated repeatedly. These unfulfilled promises could well prove his undoing.

Islamabad/Brussels, 16 January 2004

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