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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 18:12 GMT
Pakistan 'not meant to be secular'
Religious school
Religious schools should not lead to a 'theocratic state'
By the BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Lahore

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said Pakistan was meant to be an Islamic republic and is certainly not a secular state.

Talking to the BBC after visiting two relatively moderate madrassahs or Islamic schools in Lahore, he said his recent actions were aimed at eliminating Islamic extremism from the country.

He said he was in no way opposed to religious teaching or practices in the country.

The two Islamic schools that President Musharraf visited during his day-long trip to Lahore are quite different from hundreds of other such institutions which propagate religious orthodoxy or extremism.

In these two madrassahs, several thousand students are not only taught to read the Koran in a traditional way, they are even offered courses in modern sciences and computer technology.

President Musharraf was visibly impressed and said this is how religious schools should function in a progressive Islamic state.

Differing interpretations

"No-one should even think this is a secular state. It was founded as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, but the interpretation of this Islamic Republic of Pakistan which I differ with is that which tends to take it as a theological, theocratic state, and that is where I differ," the general said.

General Musharraf
Musharraf has been praised abroad

President Musharraf said his campaign against the groups and institutions that spread religious extremism and violence will continue as there was no room for such activities in a moderate Islamic country.

The recent move by the general to ban five militant groups and to arrest hundreds of their supporters has been widely praised by the United States and many other countries.

But some critics at home say his actions were mostly aimed at pleasing the outside world.

His latest move to draw a clear distinction between the moderate Islamic madrassahs and those spreading extremism is perhaps to show that he was not insensitive to the local religious practices and is not planning to make Pakistan a secular state.

See also:

12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan to regulate religious schools
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