Karachi: Pakistan’s religious parties are resisting the Sindh Government’s proposed bill for registration of religious seminaries after law enforcement agencies named 53 seminaries linked to militant groups and closed down another 167 unregistered ones.

Sanaullah Abassi, a senior official of Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Sindh, told Truth Tracker, “Since implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) in December 2014, the Sindh Police have shut down and sealed 167 unregistered seminaries.” Police will continue operations until the elimination of terrorist elements from the seminaries, he said.

The province needs to reform rules for seminary registration in order to block the facilitation of terrorism, he said.

“Sindh Police has completed geo-tagging of 7,724 seminaries in the province recently, with 3,110 of them in Karachi alone,” said Abassi. He went on to say the process would help law enforcement keep an eye on the seminaries and their funding. “We intend to find all the seminaries that have links to militancy,” he said.

Statistics obtained from the CTD Sindh reveal that 30 seminaries of Karachi have links to terrorist organizations. Meanwhile 12 seminaries in Hyderabad, six in Sukkur, four in Larkana and one seminary in Ghotki also have links to militant outfits.

The CTD in coordination with other law enforcement agencies is closely monitoring 33 seminaries in the province.

On August 20th, the Government of Sindh announced legislation, the Sindh Cabinet had approved the draft for a proposed bill for seminaries.

“The move for legislation is made in compliance with the NAP, a counter-terrorism policy that Islamabad enacted in December 2014,” said Barrister Murtaza Wahab Siddique, Advisor to Chief Minister Sindh for Law. “The bill encompasses all issues concerning the seminaries in Sindh that require to be taken care of by the National Action Plan (NAP).”

Right-wing religious parties have objections regarding the proposed bill and have announced that they will not go through the registration process under this new law. Jamiat Ulma e Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Sindh has announced a series of protests against the proposed law and held a protest rally against the bill on September 1, 2016 in Karachi.

“Government asked conditionally registration of seminaries, We will not accept any conditions regarding the registration of seminaries. Meanwhile, we are ready to register our seminaries unconditionally,” said Rashid Mehmood Soomro, General Secretary of JUF-F Sindh Chapter.

The central issue is seminaries that have already been registered under an existing law are being asked to re-do the procedure. The new proposed legislation would require seminaries to first obtain a No Objection Certificate from the Provincial Secretary of Home Department, Sindh Building Control Authority and Deputy Commissioner of the concerned district.

Obtaining the NOC would require seminary management to give details about the construction of seminaries; details of foreign students will be shared with the provincial authorities; foreign students will need a separate NOC from their native countries; and the management of the seminary will also be required to disclose their sources of funding.

Soomro categorically refused to participate in the process. “We do not need special permission to teach or preach religion,” he said.

“The Sindh Government promised us that that the legislation will be finalized after consultation with religious parties and clerics.”

However, Soomro warned, “If the Government of Sindh fails to keep its words, we will protest again.”

Soomro denied that the seminaries are linked to banned outfits or militant organizations. “All such allegations are baseless. We are not supporting extremism or terrorism,” he said.

The bill was tabled in the Sindh Assembly a year ago, but could not be passed due to strong opposition by the religious parties. “Meanwhile, the government held several rounds of dialogues with religious parties and clerics but failed to reach a consensus,” said former provincial minister for religious affairs, Dr. Abdul Qayoom Soomro.

Statistics obtained from the Department of Commerce and Industry Sindh indicate that 16,000 seminaries are operating in the province and half of them are unregistered.

Findings of research conducted by the Department of Media Studies at Islamia University of Bahawalpur Pakistan in 2012 shows the proliferation of seminaries can be directly traced back to the era of former military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq, when the students of these seminaries were indoctrinated with extremist ideologies and sent to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupiers.

The report says that every attempt to reform seminaries in Pakistan failed due to incomplete investigation and unrealistic and inapplicable legislation.

According to the research report, the number of seminaries has grown from 245 at the time of Independence to close to 50,000 across Pakistan today.

Registered seminaries are affiliated with five boards that help determine syllabi, control exams, and set fees.

Muhammad Hanif Jalandari, Chief of Wafaqul Madaris (Federation of Seminaries) also rejected the proposed law. He said the Government of Pakistan had promised in 2004 and 2010 that seminaries which are already registered under existing legislation would not be asked to re-register. The Sindh Government has also promised to discuss the matter with the Wafaq on this issue, he added.

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