PESHAWAR -- Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are seeking to break the tie between extremism and "rogue" seminaries by implementing a law that regulates seminaries' conduct.
A cross-section of Pakistanis, ranging from politicians to academics, sees the law as a way to stabilise the region and to curtail terrorism.
The KP government issued an order in April requiring all seminaries to disassociate themselves from banned extremist outfits and to introduce modern education subjects to their curricula.
The requirements also include compelling seminaries to report their sources of funding and to submit to an annual audit by authorities.
Penalties for non-compliant seminaries include fines of Rs. 600,000 ($5,663) and/or imprisonment of six months.
Authorities have mandated that seminaries submit an affidavit under oath, in which they certify that no pro-militancy, anti-state teaching is taking place within their confines and that they are complying with the new education standards.
Cracking down on 'religious hatred'
Pakistan is awash in seminaries, according to 2015-2016 government statistics.
During that period, the government found 35,337 registered and 8,249 unregistered seminaries nationwide.
KP had the most unregistered seminaries of any province, numbering 4,135. Balochistan had the most registered seminaries, with about 13,000.
The new mandate is meant to bring all seminaries in KP under a single authority, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak told Pakistan Forward. "Many seminaries in the province remained unregistered ... and there were no proper laws to regulate them."
It would be a great service to humanity if the seminaries include modern subjects along with their Islamic curricula, he said, adding that "many of the directors of madrassas are willing to go for it".
The crackdown should have come much sooner, said Qamar Naseem, CEO of Blue Veins, a Peshawar-based civil society organisation.
"The flood of unexamined donations coming into the seminaries must be properly recorded, so these funds cannot be used for any extremist activity," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that the law "will help create higher education standards and de-radicalise the curriculum".
"It is high time to take action against madrassas promoting religious hatred," he said.
More ideas for reform
Observers like Naseem have more ideas for what to do to fight radicalisation in seminaries.
"The government, in consultation with seminary boards, should form a strategy to regularise interactions among seminaries of different sects," he said.
"Seminary reform is a drop in the ocean," said Mossarat Qadeem, chairwoman of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, an Islamabad-based pro-peace NGO.
"We sorely need to train seminary teachers who can teach tolerance and rejection of extremism," she told Pakistan Forward.
The Pakistani government can go ahead and regulate seminary funding, but "the state has to ... educate society as a whole if it wants to restore peace", she said.
KP, which has battled terrorism for decades, needs to have a mechanism for monitoring the teaching within and the funding of all schools at all levels, said Sana Ijaz, KP provincial chief of the Lahore-based women's-rights NGO Shirkat Gah.
Making modern subjects mandatory in seminaries will give the pupils insight into everyday life rather than the narrow curriculum of Islamic doctrine and history, she told Pakistan Forward.
Promoting peace, tolerance
Barring hate speech in seminaries "will project the true image of religion and promote sectarian and religious harmony", Radish Tonny, a Peshawar minority rights activist, told Pakistan Forward.
"Religious intolerance has ... always promoted hatred and led to violence and bloodshed," he said.
The law will help ensure seminaries curb such activity and will "serve as a platform for promoting peace and harmony", he said, praising the government's involvement in the issue.
"Seminaries need the government's help to purge hate literature from their curricula and to make Pakistan peaceful," he said.