Faisalabad (AsiaNews) In a televised speech to the nation, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemned terrorism yesterday. He called on Pakistanis to unite and justified cracking down on madrassas or Islamic schools, an action that has provoked strong protests by religious groups.
Mr Musharraf said that nation must join forces to fight extremism and engage in a 'jihad' or holy war against those who promote violence in society in the name of religion.
The President invited British Prime Minister to join him in fighting Islamic extremism in both countries.
"We certainly have a problem here which we are trying to address very strongly. But may I say that England also has a problem which needs to be addressed," he said.
Evidence of a Pakistani connection in the July 7 tragedy is getting stronger by the day. Three of the four suicide bombers are thought to have trained in Pakistan's Qu'ranic schools.
For the past three days under international pressure, Islamabad has carried out nation-wide raids in madrassas and homes of suspected Islamic militants.
In the last 48 hours, police has arrested 228 religious scholars and students.
The government also announced that all madrassas must be registered with the authorities by December of this year.
There are thousands of religious schools in Pakistan that offer free education in some of the remotest and most underdeveloped parts of the country, areas where the authorities are unable to know the content of the school curriculum followed.
According to the Education and Religious Affairs Ministry, there are anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 Islamic schools.
The Election Commission on Tuesday announced that nomination papers of candidates having affiliation with any banned militant or sectarian group would not be accepted for the upcoming local government elections.
The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA)an influential alliance of six Islamic partiescondemned the actions of the police, calling them "an attack against religious freedom", and announced that it would hold a protest during today's Friday prayers.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, chairman of the MMA, said that "General Musharraf is trying to get international media attention through counterproductive actions".
In his view, the government should have consulted religious parties to share information about the schools and their students and thus find a peacefully solution to the problem.
In a joint statement, MMA leaders accused the President of being under the thumb of London and Washington.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao vowed however that arrests under anti-terrorism laws would continue.
Not all Muslims are planning to join the protest. Pir Muhammad Ibrahim, head of Jamia Rehmania Rizvia School, told AsiaNews that "we are not worried about the government's crackdown on madrassas because it is not against all madrassas; only against militants and extremists who have been involved in terrorists' activities".
For this reason, Mr Ibrahim will not take part in the demonstrations organised by the MMA.
"We do not feel need for this," he said. "Schools should provide themselves lists of suspects to the government if they want to escape from government's raids."