THE words sound serious, but we’ll have to wait to see if the action that follows is too.
Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan upped the ante somewhat when he said recently that the finances of religious seminaries must be scrutinised, and the latter will have to be encouraged to use registered bank accounts to transact and make payments.
Although the State Bank claims there is no policy barring madressahs from opening bank accounts, the reality is that many of them continue to use the personal accounts of their staff to carry on their financial affairs.
This practice conceals the source of funding, as well as the identities of the parties with whom they are transacting, opening the door to abuses that might even dovetail with extremist activity in some cases.
If the minister is able to get madressahs to start using their own bank accounts, it will be a positive step towards bringing some transparency into their affairs.
But the job is likely to prove harder than what the minister imagines. Simple jobs regarding the madressahs have taken far more effort than the state imagined.
Take as an example the relatively straightforward task of counting the number of madressahs in each province, and then geo-tagging them so as to have a map showing locations and other details of each of them.
Punjab had a very difficult time obtaining an exact count of the number of madressahs operating within the province, and more recently Sindh has concluded an exercise in geo-tagging them. Through that exercise it has been learnt that almost one-third of all seminaries in the province are unregistered.
This is a large number and getting them to first register themselves with the state, then compelling them to open bank accounts in their own name and using only these accounts to carry on their financial affairs will take a great deal of focused effort and coordination.
The exercise must be carried out though because transparency in sources of funding for religious seminaries is required, and this cannot happen so long as their dealings are either done in cash or through accounts opened in the names of their staff members.
One only hopes that the minister has thought his statement through and intends to follow up on it with energy, because the wider goal of uprooting extremist narratives and hate-filled ideologies cannot be fulfilled without plugging this vital gap.