Why is PML-N allowing foreign funding for Pakistani madrassas?

Published: February 19, 2015

Students are abused and brutally beaten in madrassas and no one says anything because they are too scared. PHOTO: SHAHID BOKHARI/EXPRESS

Funding for religious seminaries in Pakistan has always been a difficult topic to cover. For one, most seminaries are unregistered, making it difficult to deduce the exact source of their funding. Even when seminaries are registered, questioning the source of funding remains a no-go area because of the sensitive topic of religion.

Being the country’s largest province by population, the presence of a large number of religious seminaries in Punjab, both registered and unregistered, is natural. Eyebrows have always been raised when it comes to the influence of religious seminaries based in the province, but the source of funding received by these seminaries has always been dragged under the carpet. With the recent disclosure by Punjab Police, that is no longer the case. The fact that seminaries in Punjab receive funding from foreign countries is now out in the open.

Not surprisingly, the highest funding received is from the Middle East. Having ruled Punjab with an iron fist for what seems like an eternity, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) close relations with the gulf world, especially Saudi Arabia, are well documented. It is not hard to deduce therefore, why the PML-N government would prefer keeping quiet on the matter than coming out in the open about it. Relations with the gulf world are pivotal to the PML-N government, both at the federal and provincial level. But with the cancer of religious extremism eating up Pakistan inside out, fuelled in large parts by the hate speech and literature spread by the seminaries in question, it is time for PML-N to re-evaluate its strong links to the gulf.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has funded religious extremism in various parts of the world, based in large parts on its paranoia of Shia Islam. While Saudi Arabia itself has not suffered from religious violence, even though it makes up for it with inhumane domestic policies, countries that have been on the receiving end of the funding  by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have suffered massive human loss. Pakistan has the tragic honour of being an old member of that very club. Even though as far as this particular piece of news is concerned, Saudi Arabia falls well behind the likes of Qatar and Kuwait as far as the amount of funding goes, its influence in the region and its muscle behind the spread of Wahabi Islam has been obvious to the world for a long time.

While criticising the Gulf and other countries that have played an active part in the funding of these seminaries is normal, what also needs to be considered is the PML-N government’s lax attitude towards the whole matter. It would be naïve to suggest that a chief minister as active and agile as Shahbaz Sharif would not be aware of the source of funding for religious seminaries in Punjab. But the answer to why a blind-eye was turned to all of this is hardly complicated. The PML-N government has been extremely protective of Punjab as far as religious extremism goes. The fact that the province has suffered least as far as religion triggered violence is concerned is out there for everyone to see. The PML-N government was always hesitant to make a move against terror outfits because of the fear of backlash in Punjab. Add the fact that the PML-N government will do all it can to please its friends in the Gulf and it is easy to understand why putting a lid on matters, such as foreign funding, was such a convenient solution to it all.

Foreign policies do not change overnight. It takes a gradual process. Foreign policies as historically strong as the one between Pakistan and the Gulf world will take an even longer time. But it is about time that process starts.

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    PMLN are owned by the Saudi royals. They gave them a home when they had no where to live. So of course they are gonna let the Saudi people do whatever they want in PakistanRecommend

  • Parvez

    Great blog………simple answer is that our leaders can not see beyond their pockets.
    Their and their families exit plans are in place….and most of their wealth is stashed abroad.Recommend

  • Sami

    In order to become a Liberal in Pakistan there are two conditions that must be fulfilled. Number one is to bash so called Extremists. And Number two is to focus on Punjab only and somehow make Punjab responsible for every evil.

    This article is just the same hogwash for me.

    Do you know that Madress system give free lodging, free food and free education to their poor dwellers?. At present on average more than 2 Million Children are enrolled in this type of system. For the poor people this is the only way to educate their children. One positive thing about Madressas is that in the context of Islamic teachings many Children learn how to read and write. This brings the illiteracy down to a larger extent.

    The rich elite can bash this system because their own children can afford Elite Private English Medium Education. Think about the poor that where they can send their children to study. ?

    We dont need to end these school systems. Rather we have to bring reforms on the lines of Christian Missionary School systems. The reforms should include the Inclusion of Modern Education System in the fold of Madressas.

    Also The government should make a channel that if any country want to give funding to these religious schools then they should be given through Gov Channels only.

    One more thing i could not understand that there are many Top level schools in Pakistan who directly get the funding from Foreign Funded NGOs. So it is Halal as long as Elite schools will be sponsored by NGOs?. But in this case government must drag the poor children out of schools?.

    Unless the Equal Education system will not prevail in Pakistan we should not let anyone to stop any form of education. We need reforms not some embargoes to any Structure of Education.Recommend

  • 2Paisa (Khi)

    We need to stop with this ‘straw man argument’. The problem is not with foreign funds or madarsas but with violence itself from whatever source – focus on this point instead and don’t conflate the two…your argument otherwise has a major logical fallacy.Recommend