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Pakistan Islamists refuse to expel foreign students

Islamists ruling a Pakistani province have refused to obey a Govt order to expel foreign students enrolled in Islamic schools.

world Updated: Dec 31, 2005 17:43 IST

Islamists ruling a Pakistani province on Saturday refused to obey a government order to expel foreign students enrolled in Islamic schools.

President Pervez Musharraf had ordered all foreigners studying at the schools-- madrasas, to leave by December 31 as part of a drive to stamp out terrorism and religious extremism following the July 7 London transport bombings this year.

His order came after revelations that at least one of the four London bombers -- three of whom were Britons of Pakistani descent -- had spent time at a madrasa.

Officials have said that around 700 foreign students, out of a total of 1,400, have since left and madrasas have stopped enrolling more foreign students. But hundreds remain.

Amanullah Haqqani, religious affairs minister in the conservative North West Frontier Province, said the provincial authorities would not expel any foreign students.

A majority of the foreign students, most of them Afghans, are studying in NWFP.

"As far as we are concerned, we have no deadline, or any plan to expel them," Haqqani said.

"Secondly, we want the federal government to review its decision as it is a matter of pride for Pakistan to impart religious education to foreign students."


Authorities in Islamabad have eased the demand that foreign students leave by December 31, noting they may face administrative delays, but want them to go as soon as possible.

On Friday, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said more than 65 per cent of foreign madrasa students had left the country since the government announced its decision.

Analysts said the government had softened its stance on expelling foreign students because of hiccups in implementation.

"The government had taken the decision under international pressure, and all this seems to be disorganised and hurriedly done," said Mutahir Ahmad, assistant professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi.

"There has been wide opposition to the government's decision, especially in NWFP. Plus, the public sentiment is not the same as it was in 2001, after the 9/11 events," he added.

Pakistan has about 12,000 madrasas, which provide education, shelter and food to boys from poor families. Some are suspected of being breeding grounds for Islamist militants.

The number of foreign students at madrasas fell sharply after Pakistan imposed tougher visa rules following the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The country saw a spectacular rise in the number of madrasas in the 1980s, when the schools, backed by funding from the West and Arab countries, became recruiting grounds for Islamic volunteers fighting Soviet forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

First Published: Dec 31, 2005 17:43 IST