As Pakistan basks in the praise of western officials over its offensive against Islamist militants, concerns are mounting that Islamic madrassa schools in the populous provinces of Sindh and Punjab may provide a beachhead for radicalism.
Security officials last year counted more than 560 madrassas in and around Karachi, the country’s largest city and financial centre and the capital of Sindh province, according to a report seen by the Financial Times. Schools in the report were noted for “training for arms and pupils sent to Afghanistan and Kashmir”, “famous for extremist teachings and armed students”, “arms on site” and “foreign armed students”.
Pervez Musharraf, then president, promised in 2002 to address links between Islamic schools and militant groups, but made little headway in establishing authority over the madrassas.
The schools have since been linked to terrorist incidents, such as the 2005 London bombings.
The Karachi madrassa schools “are in danger of becoming a watering hole for militants leaving places like Swat [the valley that was briefly controlled by the Taliban this year before the army launched an offensive to restore control] and seeking refuge if they can reach Karachi”, said a western diplomat.