ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – About 1,400 foreign students studying at Pakistan’s Islamic schools face deportation after the president vowed to try to expel them in a bid to stop the schools from being used to spread extremism, officials said Saturday.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Friday announced his controversial decision to expel all foreign students from Pakistan’s Islamic schools, or madrassas. Under immigration law, the expelled students would have to leave the country.
There are about 1,400 Muslims, most from Arab and African countries, among the roughly one million students in Pakistan’s 10,000-12,000 madrassas, an Interior Ministry official said Saturday on condition of anonymity, because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Most of Pakistan’s madrassas are funded by private donations or religious political parties. A few are believed to also receive money from some Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia,
Iran and Libya, but the schools rarely acknowledge such foreign assistance, sometimes saying the money comes from individual donors living abroad.
On Friday, Musharraf said at a news conference that all foreign students studying at madrassas would be expelled, and that no new visas would be issued to those wishing to come to Pakistan for Islamic education.
“This process will start very soon,” Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said Saturday. He said the president had taken the measure to address concerns of countries who say their young people indulge in militancy while studying at Pakistan’s madrassas.
Musharraf’s decision drew fire from Maulana Wali Khan, a spokesman for Wafaq-ul-Madaris, a body that controls about 10,000 madrassas.
“We knew that he would take this step to appease America and other Western nations,” Khan said.
Another leader of Wafaq-ul-Madaris, Hanif Jalandhri, said only 200-300 foreign students were studying at madrassas.
“These students should be given time to complete their education,” he said.
Also Saturday, Mohammed Naeem, an administrator at Jamia Banoria — one of the main madrassas in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi — said he had read Musharraf’s statement, but had not received any formal order.
“I think the government should not treat foreign students as criminals,” he said.