JavaScript Menu, DHTML Menu Powered By Milonic

Media Center

Embassy in the News

Radical Teachings in Pakistan Schools:  Madrassas Back Taliban, bin Laden

by Charles M. Sennott

Boston Globe


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- In a bustling, prosperous corner of this capital city stands the gated campus of a religious school, or madrassa, where some 10,000 students study the teachings of the Koran every day.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, assistant headmaster at the school, sat cross-legged on the floor flanked by a Koran and a Kalashnikov, and asked that a reporter not photograph the weapon because it would ``give the wrong impression."

Then Ghazi proceeded to praise Osama bin Laden's call to ``jihad," or holy war, against the West. He expressed ``great pride" that ``at least hundreds" of graduates from his school have answered the call to take up arms against US forces in Afghanistan. And he openly described himself and his students as ``pro-Taliban."

The Jamia Feridia school does not exist in the shadowy fringes of militant Islam. It operates openly and has a 40-year history as part of the religious establishment in a country that Washington regards as a pivotal ally in the ``war on terror."

The school starkly illustrates just how radicalized Pakistan has become and how widespread is the support for both bin Laden and the Taliban, diplomats and political observers here say.

Approximately 18,000 US forces are still in Afghanistan, fighting a resurgent Taliban guerrilla force five years after a US-led invasion drove the Taliban regime from power and into the mountains on the Afghan-Pakistan border, along with the remnants of the Al Qaeda movement that the Taliban regime hosted until 2001.

In the last year, the Taliban have regrouped in Pakistan and reasserted their authority in the south and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Afghan leaders -- including President Hamid Karzai, during a visit to Washington this week -- have complained angrily that the Pakistanis have not done enough to go after Taliban networks in Pakistan and close radical madrassas. Karzai declared: ``Those places have to be closed down."

One Western diplomat said that Ghazi's madrassa was on a list of militant institutions that the Pakistani government has placed under surveillance and Ghazi has been detained at least once. President Pervez Musharraf, who also met with Bush this week, and other Pakistani officials say the countries have cracked down relentlessly on Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists, arresting more than 600 since 2001. Musharraf said in Washington that only 5 percent of the schools in Pakistan are radical, and added that ``we are moving slowly" against them.

The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the sentiments expressed in the school were widespread and not at all surprising given the support for the Taliban and bin Laden in many corners of Pakistan.

``Talibanization inside Pakistan has grown alarmingly. No question about that," said the diplomat, who has spent years in the region and the Muslim world.

The Afghan ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, said in an interview that the Taliban -- both the Afghan leadership that fled across the border and a more indigenous Pakistani movement sharing the same name and ideology -- were ``left to operate openly in Pakistan."

``Pakistan could be doing a lot more to control infiltration by the Taliban into Afghanistan," Jawad said.

Ghazi, with a long, gray beard and the black head scarf that is the trademark of the Afghan Taliban, was asked in an interview whether he saw himself and his school as part of what the Pakistani media have come to call ``the local Taliban."

``Philosophically, yes" he replied. ``The young generation, our students, are the local Taliban."

Speaking in perfect English with a hint of a British accent, Ghazi, who describes himself as the school's head teacher of Islamic theology, continued, ``Osama bin Laden's philosophy is quite logical and consistent with the Koran. If there are any forces attacking your people and your faith, you are justified in attacking in response. In fact, you are obligated to do so."

``Where I might differ with Osama bin Laden is the extent of what you in America call collateral damage, the killing of civilians," added Ghazi.

Asked if he was sending students to Afghanistan to fight and kill US soldiers, he said the school was not involved in recruitment or training but that it was proud of those who chose to go.

The students, he explained, are ``absolutely going and those going are justified to fight jihad against US troops. It is a legitimate jihad to fight and kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. . . . We teach that here because it is the accurate teaching of the concept of jihad."

One reason for their anger: They see the United States as the sponsor of autocratic regimes throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world -- including in Pakistan. Musharraf himself took power in a military coup in 1999.

Support for the Taliban and bin Laden can be found in many corners of Pakistan, from the capital city to remote, rural provinces. In a sermon in Peshawar, in the Northwest Frontier province, the message echoed off the ornate, alabaster architecture of the oldest mosque in the city.

Just before prayers on a recent Friday, Mullah Mohammed Yousef Qureshi, the chief cleric at the Peshawar mosque, railed against American policy and offered the popular theory that Israel orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to draw the United States into a war against Islam. Qureshi is a judge and is regarded as an expert on Sharia, or Islamic law.

``Osama's fatwa [religious edict] regarding war against America is right," said Qureshi, dressed in the traditional clerical robes and black kohl eyeliner often worn in Pashtun culture as a sign of piety.

``What the US is doing in Iraq and Lebanon and Afghanistan is an attack against all Muslims," he added.

When an interviewer pushed Qureshi to elaborate on these points, he walked out.

But in his sermon before a packed congregation, he thundered against America, saying, ``We are friends of Osama because he is a friend of Islam and is standing up to the Western world. . . . We are friends of the Taliban because they are working on behalf of Islam."

The Taliban, Pashtun for ``religious students," emerged as a movement from the Afghan refugee population living in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan in the early 1990s.

In the mid-1990s, the Taliban movement was nurtured in its formative years by the Pakistani intelligence services. The same service had worked in coordination with the United States to fund and train the mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, helping them defeat the Soviet occupying troops in 1989.

Pakistani intelligence -- as well as officials in the US State Department -- saw the Taliban then as a pious and honest alternative to brutal and corrupt Afghan warlords who had seized power in Afghanistan after the Soviets left. Instead, in their five years in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban opened the door to bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Last month, Musharraf and Karzai agreed to step up and coordinate the fight against the rising threat posed by the resurgence of the Taliban in the border regions. But there are still tensions between the two governments.

Many analysts believe bin Laden may have found refuge in Pakistan's remote Dir Province, a tribal region of rugged, impenetrable mountain peaks and valleys.

During the US offensive in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, a Pakistani militia in Dir called the Movement for the Implementation of the Shari'a of Mohammed dispatched some 4,000 jihadists -- a ragtag brigade of shotgun-wielding villagers -- to help the Taliban and Al Qaeda resist the American forces. More than half were killed or captured, according to the No. 2 man in the organization, Maulana Alam Khan.

In a small mosque in the remote village of Batkhela , Khan, wearing the black turban of the Taliban, told a visitor last month, ``It is America's actions that have made so many despise it. Before five years ago, you did not hear this hatred for America, not until it began attacking Muslims. And now it is required that we resist." 


Home | Contact Us | Sitemap © 2006 Embassy of Afghanistan and GlobeScope Inc. All Rights Reserved.