KARACHI -- The Sindh provincial government has completed the registration of seminaries in the province, shutting down thousands over "suspicious activities", authorities say.
"The government has closed down 2,311 seminaries while completing the geo-mapping of seminaries," Sindh Inspector General of Police A. D. Khawaja told Pakistan Forward.
"The seminaries were closed down over suspicious activities," he said, adding that the government has "initiated search operations in the seminaries that spread extremism".
The geo-tagging and registration of seminaries are one of the components of the National Action Plan (NAP), implemented after the December 2014 Army Public School massacre in Peshawar, in which terrorists killed about 150 children and teachers.
When geo-tagging started in early 2015, Sindh had 9,590 seminaries, out of which 6,503 were registered.
Sindh has closed down far more seminaries than any other province, according to the latest Ministry of Interior figures.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has completed 75% of the geo-mapping of seminaries and so far closed 13 seminaries on suspicion of illegal activities. Balochistan has completed 60% of the geo-mapping and closed just one suspicious seminary in the province.
Punjab completed the geo-mapping exercise and closed only two suspicious seminaries.
Police and Rangers raided several unregistered seminaries in Sindh, seizing documents and phones and taking some clerics in custody for further questioning, said Khawaja.
"In a few seminaries, authorities recovered hate material and registered cases against the seminaries," he said.
"We are thankful to ulema of different schools of thought for their co-operation in getting their seminaries registered," he said, praising religious scholars for registering their seminaries and for supporting the search and closure of suspicious ones.
"Registering and regulating seminaries are key elements of countering militancy," he said. "Some religious seminaries have been accused of promoting sectarianism and extremism ... and some are even involved in violence."
Registering seminaries will help distinguish between those serving the cause of religion and those abetting terrorists, he said.
"The NAP was formulated to combat militancy and extremism. It also included registering and regulating seminaries to crack down on those that are suspected of supporting or promoting militancy," Senator Abdul Qayyum Soomro, the Sindh chief minister's adviser on religious affairs, told Pakistan Forward.
"The legislation is aimed at creating a formal mechanism for registering, regulating and facilitating seminaries," he said. "It will help audit the seminaries' sources of income and monitor their curricula and code of conduct for the Friday prayers."
Soomro advocates introducing uniforms to seminaries as a way of improving student behaviour.
"The representatives of the seminaries belonging to the five schools of thought have largely agreed on the legislation," he said.
The Sindh government has sought guidance from the federal government on the registration of seminaries and even recommended some amendments to the process, he said.
"The process was initiated after consultation with all stakeholders, including senior clerics of all five boards representing seminaries of different schools of thought," said Soomro, who heads the 11-member committee tasked with co-ordinating seminary registration in Sindh.
"Sectarian culture in the seminaries will be eliminated by gradually bringing them into the mainstream," he said.
"The Sindh government is committed to [...] sectarian harmony and bringing an end to hatred and extremism," he said.
Clergy are deeply respected in Pakistan and it is difficult to overcome the resistance of those who resist registering and regulating seminaries, said Brig. (ret.) Rashid Ali Malik, a security analyst based in Karachi.
"Strong political will is required to deal with the notorious elements in seminaries," he told Pakistan Forward. "Moreover, seminaries' sources of funding should be identified and regulated and their curricula revised to promote harmony."