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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Karzai Calls Pakistan's Extremist Madrassas a Terrorist Threat

(Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai today said a small portion of Pakistan's religious schools, called madrassas, are ``training grounds for terrorists'' and a serious threat to the world.

``There will not be an end to terrorism unless we remove the sources of hatred in madrassas,'' Karzai said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a policy study group in Washington.

Karzai's comments come two days before he's scheduled to discuss cooperation in the war on terrorism with U.S. President George W. Bush and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the White House.

Karzai has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop Taliban fighters from using the mountainous border region between the two countries as a haven. The fighters stepped up attacks in Afghanistan in recent weeks as Afghan and international forces expand their operations to the south and east.

Musharraf has rejected such allegations, and he told the United Nations last week that ``the problem lies in Afghanistan.''

Karzai said today that many of Pakistan's madrassas are legitimate places of instruction. Still, those preaching hatred ``have to be closed by action'' and ``by arresting'' the organizers, he said.

If a boy of seven is taught religious intolerance until he's 14, ``you will have a suicide bomber,'' Karzai said.

U.S. Can Help

Asked after his speech what the U.S. might do to help his country fight terror and the surge in violence in his country, Karzai said the U.S. ``has a great role to play'' in helping to shut down militant madrassas, though he did not explain how. Karzai said he hopes Musharraf will cooperate in the effort.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, Musharraf proclaimed it a top priority to modernize madrassas. Almost five years later, that $100 million effort has collapsed and the program's staff, office rent and utility bills have not been paid, Newsday reported today.

Many of the schools teach and feed Pakistani students for free, making them an attractive alternative to public schools, which require parents to pay for uniforms and books.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Sept. 22 that the surge in Afghan violence in recent months poses the gravest threat to achieving piece in that country since the Taliban regime was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001. Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, sounded a similar note in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece today in which he said the Taliban now control entire swathes of southern Afghanistan.

Karzai was more upbeat. While he conceded today that there are districts in Afghanistan with a ``power vacuum'' that attract insurgents, he said, ``get us a strong police force and we will do well.''

There was more violence in Afghanistan today. Two gunmen riding a motorbike shot and killed the top official for women's affairs in southern Kandahar province today, Agence France- Presse reported. U.S. forces killed 10 Taliban fighters in Paktika province, the U.S. military said in an e-mailed statement today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Judy Mathewson in Washington at jmathewson@bloomberg.net
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