The Solution to Extremism

This section contains Spearhead Special Reports researched and developed by our team of analysts and writers. All Special Reports are in PDF format.

Increased U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killing few HVTs

Postby shemrez » Tue Feb 22, 2011 12:15 pm

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Increased U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killing few high-value militants

By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 12:07 AM

CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two.

Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.

Even more generous counts - which indicate that the CIA killed as many as 13 "high-value targets" - suggest that the drone program is hitting senior operatives only a fraction of the time.

After a year in which the CIA carried out a record 118 drone strikes, costing more than $1 million apiece, the results have raised questions about the purpose and parameters of the campaign.

Senior Pakistani officials recently asked the Obama administration to put new restraints on a targeted-killing program that the government in Islamabad has secretly authorized for years.

The CIA is increasingly killing "mere foot soldiers," a senior Pakistani official said, adding that the issue has come up in discussions in Washington involving President Asif Ali Zardari. The official said Pakistan has pressed the Americans "to find better targets, do it more sparingly and be a little less gung-ho."

Experts who track the strikes closely said a program that began with intermittent lethal attacks on al-Qaeda leaders has evolved into a campaign that seems primarily focused on lower-level fighters. Peter Bergen, a director at the New America Foundation, said data on the strikes indicate that 94 percent of those killed are lower-level militants.

"I think it's hard to make the case that the 94 percent cohort threaten the United States in some way," Bergen said. "There's been very little focus on that question from a human rights perspective. Targeted killings are about leaders - it shouldn't be a blanket dispensation."

Even former CIA officials who describe the drone program as essential said they have noted how infrequently they recognized the names of those killed during the barrage of strikes in the past year.

The CIA declined to comment on a program that the agency refuses to acknowledge publicly. But U.S. officials familiar with drone operations said the strikes are hitting important al-Qaeda operatives and are critical to keeping the United States safe.

"This effort has evolved because our intelligence has improved greatly over the years, and we're able to identify not just senior terrorists, but also al-Qaeda foot soldiers who are planning attacks on our homeland and our troops in Afghanistan," said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified program.

"We would be remiss if we didn't go after people who have American blood on their hands," the official said. "To use a military analogy, if you're only going after the generals, you're likely to be run over by tanks."

The data about the drone strikes provide a blurry picture at best, because of the reliance on Pakistani media reports and anonymous accounts from U.S. government sources. There are also varying terms used to describe high-value targets, with no precise definitions.

Even so, the data suggest that the ratio of senior terrorism suspects being killed is declining at a substantial rate. The New America Foundation recently concluded that 12 "militant leaders" were killed by drone strikes in 2010, compared with 10 in 2008. The number of strikes soared over that period, from 33 to 118.

The National Counterterrorism Center, which tracks terrorist leaders who are captured or killed, counts two suspects on U.S. most-wanted lists who died in drone strikes last year. They are Sheik Saeed al-Masri, al-Qaeda's No. 3, and Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, who was indicted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa before serving as al-Qaeda's chief of paramilitary operations in Afghanistan.

According to the NCTC, two senior operatives also were killed in drone strikes in each of the preceding years.

When the Predator was first armed, it was seen as a weapon uniquely suited to hunt the highest of high-value targets, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. For years, the program was relatively small in scale, with intermittent strikes.

U.S. officials cite multiple reasons for the change in scope, including a proliferation in the number of drones and CIA informants providing intelligence on potential targets. The unmanned aircraft have not gotten the agency any closer to bin Laden but are regarded as the most important tool for keeping pressure on al-Qaeda's middle and upper ranks.

Officials cite other factors as well, including a shift in CIA targeting procedures, moving beyond the pursuit of specific individuals to militants who meet secret criteria the agency refers to as "pattern of life."

In its early years, the drone campaign was mainly focused on finding and killing militants whose names appeared on a list maintained by the CIA's Counterterrorist Center. But since 2008, the agency has increasingly fired missiles when it sees certain "signatures," such as travel in or out of a known al-Qaeda compound or possession of explosives.

"It's like watching 'The Sopranos': You know what's going on in the Bada Bing," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official, referring to the fictional New Jersey strip club used for Mafia meetings in the HBO television series.

Finally, CIA drone strikes that used to focus almost exclusively on al-Qaeda are increasingly spread across an array of militant groups, including Taliban networks responsible for plots against targets in the United States as well as attacks on troops in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, the drone campaign has fallen strangely silent. The last reported strike occurred Jan. 23 south of the Pakistani city of Miram Shah, marking the longest pause in the program since vast areas of Pakistan were affected by floods last year. Speculation in that country has centered on the possibility that the CIA is holding fire until a U.S. security contractor accused of fatally shooting two Pakistani men last month is released from a jail in Lahore.

U.S. officials deny that has been a factor and describe the lull as a seasonal slowdown in a program expected to resume its accelerated pace.

The intensity of the strikes has caused an increase in the number of fatalities. The New America Foundation estimates that at least 607 people were killed in 2010, which would mean that a single year has accounted for nearly half of the number of deaths since 2004, when the program began.

Overall, the foundation estimates that 32 of those killed could be considered "militant leaders" of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or about 2 percent.

The problem does not appear to be one of precision. Even as the number of strikes has soared, civilian casualty counts have dropped. The foundation estimates that the civilian fatality rate plunged from 25 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in 2010. The CIA thinks it has not killed a single civilian in six months.

Defenders of the program emphasize such statistics and say that empirical evidence suggests that the ramped-up targeting of lesser-known militants has helped to keep the United States safe.

The former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official said the drone campaign has degraded not only al-Qaeda's leadership, but also the caliber of the organization's plots.

Thwarted attacks traced back to Pakistan over the past two years - including a botched attempt to blow up a vehicle in New York's Times Square - are strikingly amateurish compared with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and other airline plots that followed, the argument goes.

"Pawns matter," the former official said. "It's always more dramatic to take the bishop, and, if you can find them, the king and queen."

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Bringing books back to schools

Postby Spearhead Research » Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:52 am

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Enlightenment: Bringing books back to schools

By Fazal Khaliq

SWAT: In the first such event in three years in Swat, a generous turnout of students and teachers marked an exhibition of educational books in Mingora, Swat on Thursday.

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Female students browse the assortment of books in the book fair. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ

The fair comprised two exclusive compartments: for men and women.

From the women’s section, Saira Aziz, a student of Swat Children Academy, said, “It’s the first time we have seen so many books.

More events of the kind should be arranged, encouraging participation by girls since we don’t have many outlets to begin with.”

Fatima Aziz, another student, spoke enthusiastically, “I am loving it. Thanks to the organisers for putting this book fair together.”

Reflecting on the militancy era, she said, “Oh! for God’s sake don’t even remind us of that bleak time. I hated it. We were not allowed to step out of our homes. The militants banned our education. I hope such activities are not halted again.”

Zikria Bacha, from All Teachers’ Association Swat, said, “The presence of a great number people today, proves that us Swatis love education.”

Swat Education Development Society President Fazal Rabi said, “Bridging the gap between books and students, created by the three years of militancy, is the foremost objective of this exhibition. It’s our first initiative in which nearly 5,000 books worth Rs4 million will be donated to the libraries of government schools and selective private schools of Swat.”

The fair was jointly organised by Swat Education Development Society and The Asia Foundation.

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Madressahs are not alternate to State-sponsored education

Postby Spearhead Research » Thu Mar 10, 2011 11:59 am

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‘Madressahs do not serve as an alternate to State-sponsored education in Pakistan’

One in 10 of out-of-school children worldwide is from Pakistan; only 50 percent additional spending needed in education to see results in two years

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KARACHI - Contrary to the presumption of the media, both domestic and international, the education gap in Pakistan is not actually being addressed by madressahs – only six percent of students attend Madressah, according to the ‘Education Emergency Pakistan Report’ released on Tuesday by the Pakistan Education Task Force (PETF) as part of its March for Education Campaign. As far as the results of State-sponsored education are concerned, only 35 percent of school children in Pakistan, between the ages of six and 16, can read a story, while 50 percent cannot even read a sentence; their performance is only slightly better than that of out-of-school children, of whom 24 percent can read a story.

Moreover, one in 10 of the world’s out-of-school children (a number equal to the population of Lahore) is Pakistani. As many as 30,000 school buildings are in dangerous condition, posing a threat to the well being of children; while 21,000 schools have no building whatsoever. The economic cost of not educating Pakistan, according to the report, is the equivalent of one flood every year, except that this is a “self-inflicted disaster”. This is despite the fact that after the approval of the 18th Amendment, which received Presidential assent on 19 April 2010, education is no longer a privilege, but a right.

“Article 25a sets up a possible scenario where a citizen can take the government to court for not providing them access to education; it can even be the grounds for a suo moto action,” writers of the report maintain. As such, if things continue along the same lines, the government cannot possibly meet the UN-Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on education by 2015. And as things stand now, no person alive today will see a Pakistan with universal education as defined in the Constitution. Balochistan, in fact, would have access to this right only in the year 2100 or even later.

There is, however, a solution: additional annual expenditure of Rs100 billion on education – a 50-percent increase in the current budget – can yield exponentially better results in only two years. Just one year of education for women in Pakistan can help reduce fertility by 10 percent, controlling the other resource emergencies that the country faces. The issue, meanwhile, is not solely about finances; political will and articulating demand effectively are more important, according to the results highlighted in the report.

Twenty-six countries that are poorer than Pakistan send more of their children to school. Pakistan, on the other hand, spent only 2.5 percent of its budget on schooling in the 2005-06 financial year. Now, it spends even less: only 1.5 percent of the total budget is spent on education in areas that need it most. “This amount is less than the subsidies given to PIA, PEPCO and Pakistan Steel,” writers of the report said, adding that while provinces are allocated funds for education, they fail to spend the money.

The assumption that the public school system is doing poorly because teachers are poorly paid is also untrue. “Public school teachers get paid two-thirds more than their equivalent private low-cost school counterparts; they earn four times that of the average parent of a child in their school,” writers said. “Despite this, on any given day 10 to 15 percent of teachers will be absent from their duties. There is demand for education that is partly being addressed by low-cost private schools. One-third of all rural children go to these schools (public schools can cost Rs150 per month; low-cost private schools the same or up to Rs250). Donors are not the solution... government spending in the education sector outstrip donor spending by an overwhelming margin.”

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Is the road to madrassa reform going anywhere?

Postby Spearhead Research » Mon Mar 28, 2011 10:52 am

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Is the road to madrassa reform going anywhere?

By Saba Imtiaz

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The latest effort to regulate and register Islamic schools, six months old, hasn’t even made it to committee stage yet. DESIGN: ANAM HALEEM

ISLAMABAD: In the aftermath of 9/11, madrassas became the subject of much scrutiny and questioning. The foreign media flocked to Pakistan to look at the schools that had churned out young men who went on to fight in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and then again in the US-led war in 2001.

Consequently, madrassa reform became a much-touted term during the 2000s. Political parties campaigning in the 2008 elections also vowed to reform madrassas, following renewed interest in the issue under General Pervez Musharraf.

But like in the past, the latest effort to introduce reforms in madrassas has resulted in little action. In October, the Ittehad Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan (ITMP) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) signed an agreement on some major issues, including additions to the madrassa curriculum.

“We reached an agreement on all the key principles,” says Abdul Quddus, spokesman for the Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia. The ITMP – which estimates that at least two million students are enrolled in madrassas is an umbrella for the Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia, Tanzeemul Madaris, Wafaqul Madaris al Salafia, Wafaqul Madaris Shia and Rabitaul Madaris.

“We had decided that this time we would not just listen to verbal announcements. A good working environment was created and we went ahead. A committee was supposed to start working on this. That hasn’t happened yet. We want practical implementation, but this is how it is with the government,” says Quddus.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the National Assembly recently that his ministry had not set up a committee to deal with madrassa reform.

Despite the lack of movement from the government, Quddus believes madrassas have internally felt the need to change and done so. “Madrassas have changed considerably in the past 20 years. We feel that as times change, new things such as the study of computers should be introduced. Over the years, we have introduced primary and secondary education, and follow the federal board’s syllabus for Matric and Intermediate. However, we will not take dictation on this matter from people who do not know how to recite Surah Ikhlas or think the Quran has 40 chapters,” he says.

Zahid Hussain, an expert on militant Islam in Pakistan and the author of Frontline Pakistan and The Scorpion’s Tail, says madrassas need to go beyond updating their curriculum. “Even if some madrassas are also teaching English or mathematics, the overall structure of education there does not bring about anything. The environment in the madrassas is what creates extremism,” he says.

Hussain says madrassas would not be such an issue if Pakistan had an adequate public school system. “The real issue is not controlling the madrassas but providing an alternative,” he says.

“Madrassas are expanding, and there is no sign of their role being reduced. In most cases, the poor can’t afford to send their children to school so they tend to send them to madrassas. The government has not been able to fulfil its responsibility of providing education.”

Key elements of the agreement reached between the MoI and the ITMP included that “no madrassa shall teach or publish any literature which promotes militancy or spreads sectarianism” and “every madrassa shall abide by the Societies Registration Act of 1860 as amended by Ordinance XIX of 2005, provided that nothing contained therein shall bar the comparative study of various religions or schools of thought or the study of any other subject covered by the Holy Quran, Sunnah or Islamic jurisprudence.”

The insertion of the words ‘comparative study’ was to ensure that madrassas do not engage in spreading sectarianism a key issue associated with some of them but would be allowed to discuss other sects and religions.

Another issue that is linked to madrassa reforms is the registration of madrassas and their growth throughout Pakistan, especially in southern Punjab. Illegally constructed madrassas – often built by adding on rooms to existing mosques – are a sore point for city development officials. On the other hand, scores of unregistered madrassas escape the scrutiny of the government.

“Most madrassas are not registered, so you can’t even talk about reforms,” says Hussain.

Wakil Ahmed Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, believes recognising madrassa boards as educational boards will automatically lead to madrassas registering with a board in order to get a recognised certificate for their graduates.

“If you confuse the registration of madrassas with the enforcement of reforms, madrassas tend to reject them (reforms),” he says. “The process needs to be about registration, regularisation and mainstreaming.”

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World Street Children Day: Generation ‘why’?

Postby Spearhead Research » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:51 pm

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World Street Children Day: Generation ‘why’?

By: Maria Amir

The number of street children in Pakistan has been increasing every year despite the Child Protection Bureau’s (CPB) attempts to control the situation.

“I have been gathering trash for two years now. I used to go to school but I dropped out because my parents had no money and needed my help,” says 12-year-old Saleem from Mianwali. “I don’t really think about what my life is like or that it can be better. This is what I have to do to help my family. My father drops me off at the main chowk every morning and picks me up in the evening. Sometimes I make money picking trash on other days I beg,” he said.

The Pakistan Child Protection Bureau (CPB) has been charged with the duty to take care of street children. The CPB reserves the right to take the children into their custody whenever they are brought to the offices attention. Under the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Bill 2004, the CPB reserves the right to take any street child into its custody and the designated CPB centres across the province are equipped to house, clothe, educate and feed the children until they can be sent to public school or returned to their parents.

“We have all the facilities and we reserve the right to return the child to his or her parents. If the parents are engaged in the beggary mafia we can choose not to return the child, in other cases we give the parents vocational training to ensure they can provide for the child,” said Lahore Child Protection Bureau in-charge Ulfat Abbas. Abbas said that the bureau was operating on a shoe string budget even though it had elaborate facilities that had been set up by the previous government. “We have the facilities to take care of many children but not enough of a day to day operating budget. Rescue 1122 has dozens of ambulances in each city we have only one for Lahore. We can’t do much with that but we do what we can,” he said.

The number of street children in Punjab are hard to tabulate but CPB officials have said that the only way to ensure that enough children are picked off the streets and rehabilitated is to involve the public. “We have a help line at 1121 that allows people to call in and report street children. Then we send in a team to recover them,” said a call centre operative Maria Sultan.

“I spend my days picking garbage here. At the end of the day my friends and I leave with full bags and get Rs35 for our efforts,” said nine-year-old Rehana. “We can’t always blame the parents for what is happening. Most of them are desperately poor but there are cases where children are engaged with the beggary mafia at a very young age,” said a Multan CPB officer Nadeem. He said that the centre picked up more and more children every month but the numbers kept rising.

“We pick up an average of 20 kids a month but the task is a mammoth one. We need people to call in and tell us where to start because this isn’t something that will go away in a day or a week or even a year,” he added.

Sahil NGO unit coordinator Iftikhar Mubarak said “These children are often found in such terrible condition it is extremely distressing. They are unwashed and they often have contracted infections. Just giving them a bath and a decent meal makes a world of difference in their lives. If we could take more off the street and put them in school, we would be making their future.”

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Will bin Laden's death free the Taliban to make peace?

Postby Spearhead Research » Fri May 06, 2011 11:41 am

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Will bin Laden's death free the Taliban to make peace?

By Tim Lister
May 06, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to suggest that the death of Osama bin Laden offered a unique opportunity for a wider settlement in a region riven by warfare and insurgency.

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"Our message to the Taliban remains the same," she said Monday. "You cannot wait us out, you cannot defeat us, but you can make the choice to abandon al Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process."

That has been a long-cherished ambition of U.S. foreign policy -- to delink the "good" Taliban from the "bad" Taliban and al Qaeda as a way of bringing peace to Afghanistan. As Clinton put in a speech to the Asia Society in February, the Holy Grail was to "split the weakened Taliban off from al Qaeda and reconcile those who will renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution."

Achieving that goal has become all the more urgent with the looming deadline to begin the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan, and President Obama's goal to complete that withdrawal in 2014. Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has argued that the West had effectively announced the date of the end of the war; and that was an invitation to the insurgents to bide their time.

Now -- "post OBL" - the omens may be more encouraging. The secretary of state apparently thinks so.

Events across the Middle East, she said Monday, are changing the political landscape. Muslims are "rejecting extremist narratives and charting a path of peaceful progress based on universal rights and aspirations," she said.

A deathblow to al Qaeda?

And there is polling to suggest that the appeal of al Qaeda's message among Muslims around the world has sharply eroded, according to regular polling by the Pew Research Center. Even in Pakistan, only 18 percent had confidence in bin Laden in 2010, compared to 52 percent in 2005.

Jihadist online forums were full of hand-wringing in January and February that the uprisings in the Middle East had passed them by, while offering a variety of strategies for co-opting or taking advantage of the unrest.

Beyond this cultural shift, there are other reasons the Taliban/al Qaeda linkage may now be weaker.

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of "The Taliban" and "Descent into Chaos" wrote in the Financial Times Monday that "the Taliban do not owe al Qaeda anything now that Osama bin Laden is dead."

No obvious replacement to succeed bin Laden

"Renouncing their links with al Qaeda and negotiating as Afghans rather than as members of an international jihad has just become much easier for the Taliban," he added.

The Afghan Taliban, a home-grown movement whose principal goal is to expel foreigners, has never had that much in common philosophically with the Arab jihadists bent on using Afghanistan as the starting point in building a worldwide Caliphate. They have no record of terrorist acts beyond Afghanistan's borders. To many observers, it was a marriage of convenience.

There may also be more prosaic reasons prodding the Taliban to distance
themselves from the al Qaeda leadership. If the U.S. Navy Seals did indeed come across what CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen described as a "boatload" of evidence during the raid in Abbottabad, some of it may (just may) help in tracking down members of the Quetta leadership of the Taliban.

However, analysts say it's by no means certain that the Taliban will perceive this watershed in the way that Clinton would wish.
The day before the operation that killed bin Laden, they declared the beginning of their spring offensive. They even made a point of warning that members of the Afghan Peace Council, established with great fanfare last year by President Hamid Karzai, would be targets. And they reiterated their central demand: "The war in our country will not come to an end unless and until the foreign invading forces pull out of Afghanistan."

How U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden

The Taliban have been weakened in critical areas in the south of Afghanistan, losing strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces and seeing scores of rank-and-file fighters give up the cause. But the fight in the east is as hard as ever -- and non-governmental organizations in Kabul have also spoken of a growing Taliban presence in the north. U.S. commanders acknowledge that gains made so far have been fragile -- and are reversible. A Pentagon report published last week said that expanding the Afghan government's influence and control outside Kabul had not kept pace with recent security gains.

So there are few signs that the Taliban -- even if they are tired of fighting -- can yet be strong-armed into suing for peace.

In a report for the New America Foundation last year, Anand Gopal argued that the Taliban have been able to exploit the ineptitude of the government in Kabul.

"They were able to take advantage of growing disillusionment in the countryside," he wrote. "In particular, the dominance of one particular set of tribes caused members of other, marginalized tribes to look to the insurgency as a source of protection and access to resources."

The late Richard Holbrooke, who was the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, acknowledged that victory on the battlefield was not on the horizon, telling CNN's Fareed Zakaria last October that "some kind of political element to this is essential, and we are looking at every aspect of this."

Holbrooke also made the point that the Taliban did not have a single address, a principal interlocutor like Slobodan Milosevic or the Palestinian Authority. "There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy," he said.

Referring to the diffuse nature of the Taliban, Miliband argues the West needs to reappraise its goals in Afghanistan. He described Afghanistan as "a country of 40,000 villages and valleys," where a political settlement needs to be "internal with all the tribes and regional with the neighbors."
That means a political role for the Taliban.

"We have to be absolutely clear, I think, that we do see a place for conservative Pashtun in the political settlement, helping govern the south and east of the country," Miliband told the Council on Foreign Relations recently.

Some of the previous contacts between the Taliban leadership and the government in Kabul have been managed by Saudi Arabia. In September 2008, an eleven-member Taliban delegation went to Mecca for talks mediated by King Abdullah. CNN's Nic Robertson reported at the time that the delegation was keen to stress that Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, was no longer allied to al Qaeda.

But vigorous Saudi involvement might be problematic now given the Kingdom's focus on its "near abroad:" the chaos in Yemen and conflict in Bahrain, where Saudi troops are now stationed. Add to that the deterioration in the Kingdom's relations with Washington over the "Arab spring" and what the Saudis regard as a reckless abandonment by the Obama administration of long-time allies like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Another complicating factor: Saudi Arabia is also looking to improve its relationship with Pakistan as a regional counterweight to Iranian expansionism, and Pakistan (which supported the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan) very much wants a place at the table in any negotiation on Afghanistan's future.

In the "plus" column, the initiative by Turkey -- an increasingly assertive regional player -- to allow the Taliban to open an office there, to help accelerate the peace process. But for now it's just an initiative, not a reality.

So while bin Laden's demise brings opportunities, there are also great obstacles in making it the first downpayment of a peace dividend. Clinton acknowledged as much when she said Monday: "Which way it breaks is not clear yet," she said. "Managing these reactions will be part of our challenge."

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Pakistani judges look to Turkey on religious education

Postby Spearhead Research » Mon May 30, 2011 10:41 am

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Pakistani judges look to Turkey on religious education

Fulya Ozerkan, HDN

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Pakistan is looking to the Turkish model of training imams as fears grow that the South Asian country’s current religious education system based on madrassas is geared toward breeding terrorists.

Thirteen senior judges from Pakistan concluded a visit Wednesday to Turkey, where they learned about imam-hatip religious vocational high schools and met with Turkey’s top cleric.

“Yes, we discussed the Turkish model in detail. The Turkish religious affairs director made certain suggestions regarding our education system,” Dr. Shahzad Iqbal Sham, the head of the Pakistani delegation, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

The group visited Turkey from May 15 to 25 as part of an in-service training program through the International Islamic University in Islamabad. The delegation met Monday with Professor Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.

“It was a comprehensive talk. [Görmez] highlighted the system of training imams in Turkey. We raised questions and those questions were answered very effectively,” said Sham, who is from the International Islamic University.

Görmez briefed the group about Turkey’s imam-hatip schools, which train religious clerics, but the Pakistani academic declined to comment on the idea that Pakistan wants to apply the Turkish model, citing his position as a university academic.

“Our religious education system is going through a transitional period. With the passage of time we will be able to modify our own system in Pakistan. The Turkish system is very effective for the people of Turkey,” Sham said.

“It doesn’t mean that I deny [Pakistan’s interest in the Turkish model]. Our problems must be addressed by the people of Pakistan but we require the assistance of the brotherly country at the national and global levels,” he added, referring to Turkey.

During a trip to Islamabad in 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, himself a graduate of an imam-hatip school, met with his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani. The Pakistani prime minister openly said his country was interested in Turkey’s imam-hatip model and expressed his intentions to switch to a government-supervised theological school system, like the one in Turkey, in order to replace the controversial madrassa system.

The Pakistani judges who visited Turkey this month spent time in Ankara, Istanbul and the Central Anatolian province of Konya as part of a judicial training program known as a “Shariah Orientation Course.”

Asked why the group chose Turkey, a country that is not governed by shariah law, Sham said: “Turkey has a lot of historical and cultural Islamic heritage. Moreover, there are certain changes in its political and legal system. That’s why we chose Turkey, to benefit from this brotherly country.”

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