Clerics and their students held demonstrations against the government’s madressah reforms plan and the right-wing religious sectors in power have almost successfully halted the process of streamlining seminaries by throwing bureaucratic and legal hurdles at the government. Despite the government starting the registration process in October, with registration offices being set up in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad, only 295 out of 30,000 madressahs that exist in the country have applied for registration so far.
There are a number of nuanced factors that the government has to look into to resolve this matter. Madressah reform was an integral part of the FATF reforms in the country, and without registration, the government will continue to have little control over financing mediums and their misuse
In 2019, the government had been praised for signing an agreement with the Ittehad-i-Tanzimat-i-Madaris-i-Pakistan (ITMP), the umbrella organisation consisting of representatives of all madressahs, with the agreement being different from those proposed by previous governments due to the government convincing the ITMP to abandon their longstanding demand of being acknowledged as a private sector education board for the award of mainstream education certificates without interference in their religious curricula. So why is there an objection now? The point of contention is the ICT Waqf Properties Act, passed as part of the FATF reforms, which states that a chief administrator auqaf will be appointed for a waqf and be vested with the waqf properties situated in the ICT including all rights, assets, debts, liabilities and obligations. Thus the Act takes away some autonomy from the ITMP, and enables more financial transparency.
However, the government must be smart about this—protests of this nature have a way of getting out of hand and if escalated, the progress on madressah reform could go back to zero. In order to not capitulate to unreasonable demands, the government needs to make sure it has done all it can from its front—this includes provincial coordination and removing any legal hurdles that can damage its case.