Islamabad, Jan. 23: Islamabad police have begun demolishing mosques along the route that President Pervez Musharraf’s motorcade takes from his Rawalpindi home to his office in the capital.
The Islamabad authorities demolished three mosques over the weekend and plan to destroy a dozen more. They claim that the mosques were built without the permission of the city administration.
However, interior ministry officials said the demolition was ordered after intelligence reports suggested that extremists might use them as hideouts to target Musharraf and visiting foreign dignitaries.
The demolitions have sparked protests by religious parties and organisations responsible for running the mosques and affiliated madarsas.
Girl students of a local seminary, Jamia Hafza, occupied a public library on Sunday and asked the government to stop the crackdown.
“It’s not fair to demolish mosques,” a student told The Telegraph, adding that “if that is justified, our occupation of the library is also justified”. Another student described the move as an attempt by the government to appease the US, saying the mosques and madarsas should be rebuilt and eviction notices by the city administration withdrawn.
Criticised as a breeding ground for extremism and militancy, Pakistan witnessed the mushrooming of madarsas during the 1980s.
Islamic militants were allegedly trained in these madarsas during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
But interior ministry officials recently claimed that more than 80 per cent of the over 13,000 madarsas have already got themselves registered with the government.
The was done under a 2005 law making the registration of religious schools and audit of their accounts compulsory to check any foreign funding.
The government speeded up the registration process after criticism from the West on its inability to reform the madarsas. “Mosques and seminaries cannot be a security risk,” said Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, deputy cleric of the central Islamabad mosque. He said there were many other structures on the route such as hotels, motels, houses and petrol stations.
He told The Telegraph that the Musharraf-led regime wanted to show the world that they are not fundamentalists.