Militant Recruitment in Pakistan: A New Look at the Militancy-Madrasah Connection

Militant Recruitment in Pakistan
A New Look at the Militancy-Madrasah Connection

by C. Christine Fair
July 1, 2007

This study presents a new framework to exposit the connections between Pakistan’s religious schools (madaris) and militancy in Pakistan and beyond.



Contrary to popular belief, madrasah students are not all poor and madaris are not categorically tied to militancy. Madaris—along with mosques and public proselytizing events (tabligh)—are, however, “gathering” places where militant groups, religious ideologues, and potential recruits can interact. Religious leaders of some madaris issue edicts (fatwas) that justify the use of violence, and a small number of madaris are used for militant training. Limited evidence suggests that madrasah students more strongly support jihad than those of public or private schools—but public school students, who comprise 70% of Pakistan’s enrolled students, also have high levels of support for violence.

  • With respect to intelligence collection and analysis, asking whether or not madaris produce militants is the wrong question. Querying the educational and other characteristics of key tanzeem (militant group) operatives, while keeping in mind the impacts of group efforts to select for desired skills and capabilities, will inform counterterrorism efforts more effectively.
  • A number of implications are pertinent to U.S. policy toward Pakistan and the threat posed by Pakistan-based terrorism to U.S. interests:
    • The U.S. can act unilaterally against known militant madaris only at great cost to other objectives (e.g., Musharraf’s safety); Pakistan will cooperate in this regard only with varying degrees of commitment, limited capability, and diminished respect for rule of law and human rights.
    • Pakistan’s entire education system requires comprehensive reform; such reform may be beyond Pakistan’s capability and there may be only limited scope for the United States to help. Increased participation by multinational organizations and demand for accountability by all partners are required to complete this daunting task. The costs of failure are too high to countenance.
    • Because efforts to restrict the supply of terrorism have rapidly diminishing margins of return, interventions to reduce demand for terrorism are needed.
    • Madaris merit continual observation as they may contribute both to the demand for terrorism and to the limited supply of militants. For the same reasons, Pakistan’s public school sector deserves much more attention than it currently enjoys.

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