Foreign students attending Islamic religious schools in Pakistan will be ordered to leave as part of a drive to stamp out terrorism and religious extremism, Pervez Musharraf, the country’s president, said yesterday.
Security forces have detained more than 600 people in the past week after General Musharraf ordered a crackdown on militant groups, mosques and madrasas, which are religious schools.
Speaking at his residence in Rawalpindi, Gen Musharraf said he wanted foreign students out: “All those who are here – there are about 1,400 – must leave. We will not issue visas to such people.”
The crackdown was ordered after the 7 July bomb attacks on London, which were carried out by three Britons of Pakistani descent and a fourth Briton of Jamaican origin.
One of the men, Shehzad Tanweer, visited a madrasa during trips to Pakistan over the past two years.
The number of foreign students attending madrasas in Pakistan has already fallen sharply since the government imposed tougher visa restrictions after the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the United States.
There are about 12,000 madrasas in Pakistan, often providing education, shelter and food to boys from poor families.
Gen Musharraf said Pakistan’s security forces were cooperating closely with their British counterparts.
He said several people had been detained based on leads from telephone records, but no-one suspected of involvement in the London bombings is being held in Pakistan. “We are in the process of going through each one of those [telephone] numbers. Anyone who had contact with those chaps we are weeding out,” he said.
Diplomats say Gen Musharraf’s main motivation for ordering the detentions is to eradicate religious extremism at home, where suicide attacks inside mosques have killed scores of Muslims.
The main targets for police have been militant Sunni groups waging a campaign against minority Shiites.
Gen Musharraf added: “The action against the banned organisations will continue. We will be very strongly dealing with them in the terrorist courts. We have decided we are going to act against their leadership.”
Gen Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless military coup six years ago, said he was in a stronger position to confront religious extremism than he had been after the 11 September attacks.
He explained that at that time the economy was weak, Pakistan was close to a fourth war with India and stronger action could have led to internal disturbances.