Islamabad (AsiaNews) Opposition by Islamic extremists to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to send foreign madrassa students packing is growing. Altogether, the expulsion order should touch 1,400 students attending Pakistani madrassas.
The President said that "[a]ll foreigners are to be removed from Pakistan's more than 10,000 religious schools." He added that that no new visas would be issued to non-Pakistanis wishing to study in Pakistani religious schools. The ban will also apply to holders of dual nationality.
"An ordinance to this effect will be adopted in the coming days as part of new rules requiring all seminaries to register with the government by the end of the year," he said.
The president, who has outlawed ten extremist groups, said the police have been ordered to arrest their leaders.
"The raids are not aimed at rounding up large numbers of people, but to catch the leaders of the radical Islamic underground," he said.
At the same time, he said that Pakistan's strategic assets were safe and secure and in no danger of falling into the wrong hands.
The President, who pledged to enforce a ban on anti-Western hate speech coming from mosque's loudspeakers or radio, also stressed that "Pakistan will never be governed or ruled by extremists."
The latest crackdown comes in the wake of revelation that three of the four July 7 London bombers were of Pakistani origin, with at least two of them, visiting Pakistan a few months before the attack.
The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six opposition Islamic parties, criticised Musharraf's decision to expel foreign madrassa students.
The alliance's chairman, Qazi Ussain Ahmed, and its general secretary, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, called the decision a disaster for the country's image and economy.
"Resentment is boiling in the madrassas. We shall discuss it during the Tahafuz-i-deeni madaris convention scheduled for August," Qazi Hussain Ahmed said.
He added that the ban on foreign studentssome of whom come from the United States, the United Kingdom, Africa and South Africawas something odd since they are a source of foreign exchange.
MMA chairman Hafiz Hussain Ahmed went further and called Musharraf's measure "a dictatorial decree by one individual". I will, he fears, have far reaching repercussions and constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights and of the prerogatives of parliament.
Expelling foreign students without proof of their guilt was a great injustice, Ahmad said.
He warned that legal recourse against the government action will be considered.
However, the issue is not entirely clear. For instance, Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said on Sunday that foreign students' visas would be cancelled only after proper review.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, chairman of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, said instead that no action would be taken against madrassa students in Pakistan and foreign students would not be deported.
"I will meet the President and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and will ask them to allow foreign students to complete their education in Pakistan," he said.
On 29 July, the Senate Standing Committee on Education urged the Education Ministry to expedite madrassa reform and collect data on registration in religious institutions.
Committee members stressed that it was more urgent than ever to turn madrassas into a modern education system that would give students the means to face modern life and offer the world a more moderate image of Pakistan.
The Education Ministry informed the Committee that up-to-date data on the numbers for religious schools and students were still unavailable. It did however estimate the number of educational facilities at around 10,000, 3,000 of which are registered with the authorities.