Madrassa Outcry: A Victim of Its Own Fundamentalism
The Pakistani madrasa has become a deeply troubling aspect of Islamic education to Western politicians and public. The images of religious teachings that focus on deep anti-Americanism, terrorists ideologies, and methods of jihad have dominated this space in Western conscience. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity inherent in these schools that has been replaced, not with answers, but estimates and false conclusions. To understand the most fundamentalist of Islamic education in Pakistan, there’s a need to examine the Deoband school of India, the foundation in which the modern Pakistani madrassa was built on.
The Deoband school began in roughly 1857, but its curriculum is based on the eighteenth century Dars’I Nizami, a set of thirteen core texts that are used in Deobandi institutions over 6-8 years. After a failed revolt against British India in 1857, the ulema formed madrassas under a perceived threat of Hindu religious pressure, Western influence, and Christian missionaries. They believed they were under siege in their own country and formed a close knit educational culture that was self labeled as an “educational jihad.” Run without state funding, registration, or curriculum review, India’s Muslim’s were forming a small protective culture around their believers as the larger Indian society evolved around them.
When Pakistan was established in 1947, many Deobandi ulema travelled to Pakistan and erected madrassas to sway the country from falling into secularism or foreign religiosity. The Pakistani Deoband schools are still considered the most fundamentalist, the most likely to inspire young jihadists, and the madrassas most likely to be targeted by reformists. Yet, these schools are historically misunderstood and the reasons for the once venerable institution to fall into jihadist influence are many.
At the height of the Cold War, the United States saw an opportunity in Afghanistan that represented the Soviet Union’s ‘Vietnam’ moment. While the weapons supplied to the Mujahideen has been well documented, the amount of persuasion that Washington extended to the Mujahideen reached into the madrassas, many of which were of the Deoband tradition. Textbooks were created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha for $50 million and distributed, predominantly to the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), that distorted the words of the Koran to focus on the lesser jihad, defeating outward evil – communists in particular. This strategy largely succeeded in the FATA and the Mujahideen proved more than formidable for the Soviet Union, allowing the United States to quickly abandon the region. Developments in the madrassas and Pakistan after those events have created an environment of fundamentalist Islamic education unprecedented in history.
Since 1988, the number of madrassas in Pakistan have swelled from 3000 to over ten times that number. In 2005, the number stood at 35,000 and recent estimates show some leveling off, with about 40,000 today, but does not include the unregistered Deobandi schools in the FATA. This was achieved not only by US dollars entering the FATA and Pakistani government, but by the complete failure of the Pakistani state controlled public education system, with parents doing whatever they can to receive a decent education for their children. Contemporaneously, the Pakistani population burgeoned phenomenally in this period, from 34 million in 1951 to nearly 200 million today. With little educational development from the state, including the building of woefully needed schools, the madrassa filled the immense void. Additionally, once the Soviets packed up and left the area to the ongoing civil war that has yet to subside, the United States paid little attention to Central Asia until September 11, 2001.
In the wake of September 11, the US made a push to alter fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Armed with a belief that the madrassas were essentially weapons of mass destruction, producing and training jihadists, the US demanded closing madrassas possibly linked to terrorism, changing the curriculum, and pushing children to attend public school. Nearly a quarter billion dollars were given to Pakistan to reform the madrassas. To change the very core of Islamic education was not in the clerics interests and push back was considerable. Furthermore, many madrassas refused to accept money if it jeopardized their autonomy. There was little accountability for where the money went and most scholars can find little trace as to what it was used for.
Madrassa educators believed that the West was targeting the foundation of Islam, to eradicate Islam, to forever alter it in a way that only benefits the West. While this is evident anti-American sentiment, the sentiment extended to the Pakistani government, who are seen as Western collaborators. Washington attempted to change the madrassas by enlisting Islamabad, but failed to take into account that both entities were highly criticized within the madrassas for meddling in their religious affairs. By attempting to reform the madrasas, change curriculum, and push public education, this belief was only strengthened. Thus, US policy focused on changing the Pakistani educational culture into a pluralistic state governed public educational model. However, this does not take into account how the madrassas, or even the people, function within the governmental model. Madrassas rely on autonomy and non-interference from foreign agents to teach Islamic fundamentalism unencumbered. Not only do many madrassas not accept money from the state, they openly do not trust Islamabad. As Pakistan sways on what to do with the madrassas, they’ve lost the trust of the people in the areas where militant madrassas most likely exist.
After September 11, Pakistan reorganized and reformed the madrassa framework with a 2002 ordinance. Interestingly, President Musharraf attempted to pass a similar bill in August of 2001, but was unable to do so. After the passing of the bill, Islamic scholars described a crisis of confidence between the government and madrassas and spoke of corruption and lack of consistency in government policy. With no support from the madrassa, the reorganization and reforms failed. Then, in 2010, Islamabad reversed course by adopting an 18th amendment to their constitution and increased autonomy among its providences, noticeably in its curriculum and religious leanings for madrassa. Pakistan has long attempted to gain more control of the madrassas, especially as their burgeoned in the 1980s and then again after September 11. However, with the passing of the 18th amendment, Pakistan recognized the ineffectualness of such policy. However, when terrorist attacks occur in Pakistan, the state retaliates often by striking at the FATA. A single 2006 madrassa retaliatory strike killed 82 students in Burjh, heightening distrust and hostility between government and Islamic educational leaders. Therefore, the process Pakistan has deployed has had little cohesion, leaving those in the FATA and poorer areas with little trust and comprehension of what might policy the next government may enact.
The United States policy has centered around greater Pakistani control of madrassas scholarly materials and US aid to build more public schools. This has also come at a time when drone strikes have established themselves as the future of warfare. Not only do clerics and poorer provinces mistrust their own government, but they actively suspect corruption and collusion between Washington and Islamabad, a difficult combination to win trust or deploy soft power by building schools. Conversely, Pakistan has made token attempts to follow the United States’ demands, while periodically striking the FATA and madrassas when terrorists threats in Islamabad become more severe. This bifurcated policy builds distrust, suspicion, and resentment among Pakistanis. Since September 11, the narrative has read as us vs. them, secularism vs. fundamentalism, state-sponsored vs. local, modern vs. traditional, the West vs. Central Asia. This narrative has only led to a protectionist culture within a greater society of perceived threat that has produced only polarization and harsher policies. There is a need to not discount religious communities and allow them to function within the state as citizens, with both sides recognizing that some schools produce terrorists. Without trust and remedying the cultural segregation, the ‘jihadi schools’ will continue to function hidden by a blanket of polarization that is pitting thousands of historically distinguished fundamentalist madrassas against its own government.
Ways to Overcome Afghanistan Crisis in Post-Republic Collapse
On August 15, 2021, the Afghan Republic government collapsed and the Taliban took over the Afghan capital city of Kabul. The last American military flight that airlifted the last American soldier, Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, left Kabul on 30th August 2021 at 11.59 pm Kabul time that ended America’s longest nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Consequently, the abrupt withdrawal created a political vacuum that resulted in a humanitarian and political crisis with far-reaching consequences. During the last two decades, there have been several areas of improvement, notably, in education, civilian government institutions, the media, the economy, civil society, healthcare sectors, and regional connectivity.
Most importantly, the literacy rate significantly improved. The adult total literacy rate (aged 15 and older) was estimated at 43% (2018) which includes 55.5% male, 29.8% female, and 13.3% elderly (65 years old and above). Youth total literacy rate (aged 15-24) is estimated at 65.4% (2018); that contains male 74.1%, and female 56.3%. Now, under the current circumstances, there is a risk of reversing the hard-earned gains of the last two decades. To preserve the hard-earned gains of the last two decades and prevent the impending socio-economic and political-security negative spillover effects, the United States of America, the United Nations, the European Union, China, Russia, and neighboring Central Asian republics should use preventive diplomacy and find a constructive solution to the crisis in Afghanistan.
Current challenges and problems
Women and girlsmake up 49 percent of the estimated 40 million Afghan population who are excluded from public life, including a ban on attending high schools and universities, as well as restrictions on access to work. Studies suggest Afghanistan is one of the worst repressive countries for women and girls, particularly due to the Taliban’s strict restrictions. Direct international development assistance, which accounted for 75 percent of public expenditures, has been suspended after the Afghan Republic government collapsed. 28.3 million people, two-thirds of the Afghan population, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023, and 17 million people are at risk of acute hunger.
Insurgent groups are resurging in Afghanistan including the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K), a regional affiliate of ISIS. According to a UN Security Council assessment, ISIS-K gained “ strength and visibility” in Afghanistan after the Taliban assumed control of the country and could create concerns beyond Afghanistan.
During a recent hearing in the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, the Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, who leads U.S. Central Command warned that the terrorist group will be able to carry out attacks beyond Afghanistan against American and European interests within six months “with little to no warning.” As a failing state, Afghanistan could turn into an unwitting host to terrorist groups, and the Taliban’s reluctance to sever ties with Al-Qaeda could further exacerbate security in the region and beyond.
Due to the absence of conflicts, there has been an overall security improvement that contributes to the reduction of the number of casualties since August 2021. However, soaring inflation, economic instability, widespread human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, ban on women and girl education from secondary and tertiary education, restrictions on working in international NGOs, and saying “female NGO staff had broken dress codes by not wearing hijabs”, and international sanctions further exacerbated the livelihood.
Quality education is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all Afghan citizens, regardless of gender. Freedom of expression and thought is a human right that should not be criminalized or subject to extrajudicial measures. Furthermore, reports of revenge killings could further create concerns among former government officials in the country. Afghans are seeking risky ways to escape from the country, with 1.6 million new arrivals to neighbouring countries, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan following the Taliban takeover.
What can regional and extra-regional actors do?
The Bonn agreement, which took place under the auspices of the United Nations among Afghan political elites in 2001 and led to the establishment of a new western-supported government in Afghanistan. The newly established government received immense political and financial support from the EU, U.S., and other countries toward the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country. Despite facing numerous challenges, the support helped to steer the country on the path to progress.
Currently, the Taliban, a religious group, rules Afghanistan without internal legitimacy through elections or external recognition from any country. Their exclusionary approach may worsen the security and political situation in the country. They have shown no willingness to hold elections, and do not plan to do so since they believe their legitimacy comes from religious interpretations. This political stalemate may drive the country to the brink of another conflict and crisis.
Before the situation worsens, the U.S., UN, EU, Russia, China, and Central Asia through preventive diplomacy can contain the delicate situation from implosion. In terms of financial aid for Afghanistan, the U.S. is the largest donor. The aid includes over $2 billion for humanitarian and development assistance, and $2.7 billion allocated for FY 2022 to the Department of Defense for transportation and sustenance of Afghan evacuees. Additionally, the U.S. made available the transfer of $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets to the Afghan Fund, a Swiss-based trust fund.
The EU allocated €222 million and €174 million for humanitarian support through humanitarian organizations operating in the country and the surrounding region for the years 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Humanitarian support by U.S., EU, and other states may help temporarily ease the humanitarian crises. However, an impending socio-economic and politico-security crisis would spill over beyond Afghanistan and may have implications for the region and beyond. To overcome an impending socio-economic and political-security implications stemming from Afghanistan from escalating, the countries in the region and beyond, particularly, the U.S., China, Russia, and the EU must step up their diplomatic, political, and economic leverage.
The U.S. and the EU possess the necessary means and capacity to intervene and mitigate the potential crisis from exacerbating. Particularly, the EU has diplomatic presence and special envoys in Afghanistan and neighbouring states, thereby enabling them to exert their influence and leverage coupled with political pressure upon the Taliban to initiate a political settlement dialogue encompassing all facets of the Afghan political landscape. The EU and Central Asia Special Representatives and Special Envoys for Afghanistan’s latest meetings in Brussels are effective initiatives but require a tangible push to change the behavior of the Taliban’s leadership.
The U.S. EU, and China have the capacity to overcome the current humanitarian crisis by providing humanitarian assistance through aid organizations operating in Afghanistan and the region and encouraging other countries to step in to address the crises. Additionally, U.S. EU, and China can encourage other countries in the region to exert their influence on the Taliban to show willingness, initially through a traditional Loya Jirga, which could consequently pave the way for more representative government, elections, meaningful representation of women in all socio-political sectors, and respect for human rights.
Gulf countries, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates could play an influential role by leveraging their politico-religious influence. Moreover, other regional countries especially in neighbourhood, namely: Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which often express concerns about current and impending spillover effects. These countries could be encouraged to play a constructive role.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has Programme Offices in Central Asia and Field Missions in the region. These offices could help address certain spillover effects of Afghanistan, particularly, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.
To sum up, Afghanistan has experienced tumultuous political upheavals over the past four decades, culminating in the current political impasse that reflects the recurrence of political errors. The U.S., the EU, China, and other actors in the region should closely monitor the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan to prevent escalation.
To consolidate political stability and ensure comprehensive representation across all strata of society, establishing a broad-based and inclusive government is imperative. An inclusive government has the potential to protect human rights, guarantee meaningful representation for women and ethnic and religious minorities, and address the menace of terrorism and extremism. It can also ensure access to education for all, which could help overcome the protracted crisis that has encompassed Afghanistan.
A Coercive Democracy?
Imagine the opposition leader of a major democracy being bundled off to jail for supposedly defaming the surname of the ruling party’s leader but it is exactly what has happened in India. Rahul Gandhi has been given a two-year sentence and has 30 days to appeal. The case was originally brought by a plaintiff named Purnesh Modi in 2019; he is a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly and a BJP stalwart.
It is certainly odd that the incident in question occurred not in the recent past but in 2019. Why 2023 for the hearing is then the obvious question until one is informed that Indian elections are to be held in 2024 and the main opposition leader behind bars will certainly make the job of the ruling BJP much easier. It all sounds very much like someone dusted off the files and wondered what could be done with the whole affair.
In his speech, Gandhi apparently pointed out recent notable fraud cases in India — the fugitive Indian diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, the Indian Premier (cricket) League chief Lalit Modi and added the name Narendra Modi. He then used the words which became the basis of the trial: “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Thus the complainant could say he had “defamed the entire Modi community.” To make matters worse, Modi is not an uncommon name in Gujarat.
There is more than a grain of truth in Gandhi’s charge. For example, there is Modi’s friend and supporter Gautam Shantilal Adani. He heads one of the top three industrial conglomerates in India, the Adani Group, with personal wealth in excess of $30 billion.
Hindenburg Research is a group which focuses on activist short selling. They noticed that Adani was using an auditing firm with 11 employees, four of whom were partners in the firm, as auditors for an enterprise worth $100 billion. Given the size, most reputable auditors would virtually have an office there to monitor activity.
Hindenburg’s scathing review of Adani enterprises showed opportunities for a huge profit or the short side. Following a 2-year investigation, they published a well researched 32-page report, and their clients certainly profited. The $100 billion value is down to $45 billion and for the individual investor the stock is down since January from about 4 to 2 thousand rupees.
To return to Rahul Gandhi: There was a reason for his maximum two-year sentence. It turns out that if a parliamentary member is sentenced to two years or more in jail, he has to vacate his seat in the legislative assembly. His comments to the press recalled his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s (India’s first prime minister) time in British jails and likening himself as a similar martyr to tyranny.
One has to wonder if Rahul is the brightest bulb in the Nehru pantheon when he wants to relinquish a platform that easily. Fewer opposition critics would suit Modi fine.
There may, however, be a bright side though it remains to be seen. The fractured opposition (including Rahul Gandhi’s Congress Party) having observed what has been done to him have an incentive to come together and form a united front against the BJP. How successful they will be remains to be seen. Just that it can’t be any worse than it is now.
Will the “Rule of Law” in Our Country Always be an Unreliable Myth?
Modern democratic societies place a strong emphasis on the “rule of law.” It implies that the rule of law must be upheld by all parties, including the government, and that justice will be served fairly. Recent occurrences, though, have cast doubt on the validity of this principle. The absence of consistency in its application is the first factor that leads some people to doubt the reliability of the rule of law. However, because laws are not always applied equally to all parties, justice is not always upheld. Because of their position, resources, or connections, some people might be given preference. People may lose faith in the legal system as a result of this inconsistency and begin to doubt the reliability of the rule of law.
Undoubtedly, every democratic society must adhere to the rule of law. It is the notion that everyone is treated equally by the law and that the law ought to be applied to all people equally and impartially. The rule of law, regrettably, is an unattainable myth in many nations, including Pakistan. Human rights abuses, political unrest, and corruption have plagued Pakistan for a very long time. The legal structure of the nation is complicated, involving a judiciary that is frequently swayed by political pressure and multiple sources of law. Although Pakistan’s constitution upholds the rule of law, the legal system there frequently acts arbitrarily and inconsistently.
Moreover, corruption is one of the main causes of the mythical impossibility of the rule of law in Pakistan. At every level of the government and society, from the police to the judiciary, corruption is rife. Public trust in the legal system can be damaged by corruption, which also threatens its integrity. Officials weaken the rule when they abuse their position for selfish gain or to advance their interests. Bribery, nepotism, and theft are just a few examples of the various ways corruption manifests. Therefore, this means that the wealthy and powerful can frequently sway the legal system to their benefit, while those who are poor and marginalized are denied access to justice. This has made it challenging for common people to access justice because they might not have the money to bribe officials or pay for pricey attorneys. Many Pakistanis lack faith in the legal system as a result of its inability to provide justice.
There have been initiatives to combat corruption and reform the legal system in recent years. Some of the actions taken to combat corruption include the establishment of national accountability bureaus and the creation of specialized anti-corruption courts. Additionally, by offering legal aid to underprivileged and marginalized communities, the government has improved access to justice. Similarly, the influence of traditional and religious customs is another factor contributing to Pakistan’s lack of a functional legal system. Particularly when it comes to issues like gender equality and human rights, these traditions frequently run counter to the principles of the rule of law. For instance, Pakistani laws favor men and a frequently biased judiciary subjects women to discrimination in the legal system.
Contrarily, if the government disobeys court orders, holds people without charge or trial, or commits extrajudicial killings, it sends a message that the law does not apply equally to everyone. A culture of impunity can be established when the government steps in to decide who is right and wrong. However, in numerous instances states respect and uphold this law. For instance, Scandinavian countries like Norway, Denmark, and Finland consistently rank among the best in the world for upholding the rule of law. These countries are characterized by strong legal frameworks, independent courts, and low levels of corruption. This demonstrates that it is not an impossibly high ideal but rather a goal that is attainable with the right institutions and culture.
Last but not least, this law is necessary for upholding individual rights and promoting social stability. Without it, there is a possibility of the use of power arbitrarily, which can result in unrest and instability. It ensures that everyone is subject to the same laws and that justice is done fairly. It is a foundational element of democratic societies, and its preservation is necessary to ensure the efficient operation of society. Modern legal systems are predicated on the idea that everyone, regardless of social standing or position, is subject to the law and that the law is applied fairly and consistently. This means that everyone must abide by the same laws and legal processes to resolve legal disputes and that no one is above the law. In a society where the rule of law is upheld, there is a fair and predictable legal framework that guarantees that individual rights are protected and disputes are settled through the legal system rather than through force or personal influence.
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