December 30, 2005

Pakistan urges foreign students to leave “soon”

By Aamir Ashraf

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan backtracked on Friday on a
demand for foreign students enrolled in Islamic schools to
leave the country by year's end, but urged the hundreds
remaining to go as soon as possible.

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

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.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told Reuters
that foreign students might face "some administrative issues"
in leaving by Saturday.

"As such, there is no deadline for them to leave, but we
want them to go back to their countries as soon as possible."

Sherpao said the government was not considering forced
deportation of those who failed to meet the deadline.

"What action can we take against those students? The
managements of the madrasas are responsible to arrange
departures of their students and we are pushing them to help us
in implementing our decision."

On Thursday, Sherpao had said that the deadline would not
be relaxed.


Maulana Ghulam Rasool, a senior cleric at the
Ittehad-e-Tanzeemaul Madaris, (the Alliance of Organizations of
Religious Schools), told Reuters that students and madrasa
managements would resist any deportations.

"Not one foreign student wants to go back," he said. "They
will give themselves up for arrest if the government uses

Authorities in the southern province of Sindh say they have
canceled the visas of 92 foreign students still at madrasas

Sindh government spokesman Salahuddin Haider said foreign
students might take seven to eight days to leave. "They need
flights to go back and it will take some time."

Rasool said the government move was aimed at "pleasing
European countries and the United States."

"These students should be given a chance to complete their
studies, it's their basic right," he said.

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 after joining the
U.S.-led war on terrorism following the September 11 attacks in

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 neighboring

Some madrasas also supplied recruits for Afghanistan's
Taliban regime toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 for
sheltering September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.