Pakistan announces religious school reform ahead of PM’s US visit

Pakistani girls from Islamabad's slums attend a makeshift school set by NGO Pheli Kiran in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this file photo taken on Dec. 9, 2014. (AP)
Updated 20 July 2019
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Pakistan announces religious school reform ahead of PM’s US visit

  • In another move ahead of Khan’s US trip, Pakistan on Wednesday detained Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of an attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 160 people

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday said it has agreed with the country’s clergy to introduce reforms in madrassa religious schools to bring them in line with conventional schools, curbing hate speech and extremist narratives.
The announcement came just before Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Washington for a Monday meeting with President Donald Trump, whose administration continues to press Pakistan over terrorist financing and curbing militancy.
The government will register more than 30,000 madrassas, which will teach subjects like English, mathematics and science, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood said.
He said the government will conduct their exams and is aiming for a first batch next June, although that is not a firm goal.
Pakistan’s madrassas have long been accused of promoting extremist narratives and have been dubbed “nurseries of extremism.”
“There will be no preaching of hate speech against any religion or sect,” the minister said.
“We will look at their curriculum to see there is no hatred against any sect or faith,” he added.
Pakistan pledged to crack down on religious seminaries suspected of fostering extremism following a school massacre by the Taliban in December 2014 that left more than 130 children dead, but the move faces stiff resistance from conservatives.
Madrassa reforms attempted by the past governments have failed due to pressure from the clergy.
Pakistan is a deeply religious Muslim-majority society and, despite misgivings about madrassas, clergy are generally well respected.
In another move ahead of Khan’s US trip, Pakistan on Wednesday detained Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of an attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 160 people.


Kashmir protesters defy restrictions, clash with security forces

Updated 1 min 39 sec ago
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Kashmir protesters defy restrictions, clash with security forces

  • Paramilitary police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a center of the protests, as hundreds demonstrated against Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy
  • Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan

SRINAGAR, India: Security forces used tear gas against stone-throwing local residents in Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions.
Paramilitary police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a center of the protests, as hundreds of locals staged a protest march against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5.
Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), to protest against India’s decision.
This was the first such call by separatists seeking Kashmir’s secession from India. India’s move was accompanied by travel and communication restrictions in Kashmir that are still largely in place, although some landlines were restored last week.
The UNMOGIP was set up in 1949 after the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, a Himalayan region both countries claim in full but rule in part. The group monitors cease-fire violations along the border between the countries.
In a narrow lane of Soura, blocked like many others with rocks and sheets of metal, residents hurled stones at the paramilitary police to stop them moving into an area around the local mosque, Jinab Sahib, which had earlier been packed for Friday prayers.
The police responded with several rounds of tear gas and chili grenades but were beaten back by dozens of stone-pelting men. Some men suffered pellet injuries.
The locals said the security forces had been repeatedly trying to move into Soura, often using tear gas and pellets.
“We are neither safe at home, nor outside,” said Rouf, who declined to give his full name. He had rubbed salt into his face to counteract the effects of tear gas.
The afternoon had begun peacefully, with men and women streaming into Jinab Sahib for afternoon prayers. A cleric then raised a call for “Azadi” – Urdu for freedom – several times, and declared Kashmir’s allegiance to neighboring Pakistan.
“Long live Pakistan,” the cleric said, as worshippers roared back in approval.
US President Donald Trump plans to discuss Kashmir when he meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in France this weekend, a senior US administration official said on Thursday.
Trump, who has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, will press Modi on how he plans to calm regional tensions after the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy, and stress the need for dialogue, the official said.
Some Indian media reports on Friday said “terrorists” were trying to enter India from Afghanistan, citing unnamed government officials.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan responded on Twitter on Friday that such claims were being made to “divert attention” away from what he called human rights violations in Kashmir.
“The Indian leadership will in all probability attempt a false flag operation to divert attention,” Khan said.
Khan’s comments came a day after United Nations experts called on the Indian government to “end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests” in Kashmir, saying it would increase regional tensions.
“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offense,” they said in a statement.
At least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and pellets since security forces launched their crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows.
Large swathes of Srinagar remain deserted with shops shut except for some provision stores with shutters half-down. Police vans patrolled some areas announcing a curfew and asking people to stay indoors.
On the Dal Lake, long rows of houseboats, normally packed with tourists at this time of year, floated closed and empty, as police patrolled its mirror-calm waters in boats.