US study downplays Pakistan madrassa threat



Washington: Pakistan desperately needs more schools to curb extremism but madrassas -- the Islamic seminaries that have struck fear in the West -- are not the main problem, a US study has said.

The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, estimated that fewer than 10 per cent of Pakistani students attended madrassas and said the number of such militant seminaries was not increasing.

Rebecca Winthrop, a Brookings fellow and co-author of the report, yesterday said more Pakistani parents preferred not sending children to school at all to enrolling them in madrassas.

"We do need to take the militant madrassa issue very, very seriously -- in all likelihood they should probably be shut down," she said at the launch of the report.

But she added: "We should really leave the question of the role of Islam in the Pakistan education system to the Pakistanis to debate. This is not something that I think is fruitful if outsiders -- us here in the US -- start weighing in on."

The study found that a more urgent priority was to increase the supply of schools in Pakistan, whose literacy rate of 56 per cent is among the lowest outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Winthrop quoted one estimate that if Pakistan boosted primary school enrollment from the present two-thirds of children to the world average of 87 per cent, the country's risk of conflict would decrease by three-quarters.

But the study found that Pakistani public schools also needed major improvement, with many now failing to teach basic skills and instilling hostility toward Hindus and India.

The US Congress last year approved a five-year, USD 7.5 billion plan aimed at building schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions in Pakistan.

PTI