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02KATHMANDU363 2002-02-14 12:21:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Kathmandu
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KATHMANDU 000363 





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A notice from the Home Ministry
announcing that private Muslim schools must register
with local authorities has drawn criticism from the
Muslim community. Some Muslim leaders view the measure
as an empty gesture, probably performed at the behest of
the Indian government, that will do nothing to improve
the quality of education available to Muslim youth.
One Muslim educator warned that the lack of educational
opportunities may further marginalize youth in his
community, making them potentially more sympathetic to
extremist movements like Maoism. End summary.




2. (U) On January 31 the Cabinet decided that Muslim
religious schools, or madrasas, will have to register
with local District Administration and Education Offices
and supply information about their funding sources in
order to operate. According to the Cabinet's official
announcement, the measure was taken to ensure the
"quality and transparency" in the schools' operation.
On Feb. 1 the Home Ministry followed up the Cabinet
decision with an announcement that all madrasas must
register with their respective District Administration
Offices by March 13.

3. (U) Baikuntha Das Shrestha, Joint Secretary at the
Ministry of Education and Sports, told poloff that the
measure, which will also affect private Sanskrit
schools, is not intended to single out madrasas for
scrutiny. Nor should the timing of the announcement,
which occurred the week before Nepal's Home Secretary
met his Indian counterpart in New Delhi to discuss
counter-terrorism cooperation, be considered
significant, Shrestha said. In fact, the measure
figured as part of implementing regulations now being
drafted for an amendment to the Education Bill passed
during the last session of Parliament. Shrestha
estimated there are approximately 300-350 madrasas
operating in Nepal, most of them concentrated in the
southern lowland Terai districts along the Indian

4. (U) Madrasas and other private schools now operate
without oversight by the central government. Most of
the textbooks used in madrasas come from India,
according to Shrestha, and are written in Urdu. The
amendment will now require madrasas and other private
schools to submit curricula for non-religious academic
subjects, such as mathematics, science, and Nepali, to
the National Curriculum Council for approval, Shrestha
said. There is so far no effort to regulate,
standardize, or scrutinize the credentials of teachers
in madrasas, most of whom come from India.




5. (SBU) Muslim leaders contacted said they were
unhappy with the measure--especially since apparently no
one in their community was consulted before it was
issued. Salim Mian Ansari, a former Minister and
current head of Nepal's largest Muslim social welfare
organization, was quoted in the press as charging the
Government of Nepal (GON) acted under pressure from
India and the U.S. (In a subsequent conversation with
poloff, he amended his accusatory remarks to include
only India.) He said he has long pressed the GON to
help madrasas to modernize. If the GON is truly
concerned about how Muslim schools operate, he argued,
it should provide them some funding to update their
science and mathematics curricula. Since the new
registration requirement does nothing to improve the
quality of madrasa education or to set standards for
their operation, Ansari concluded the measure was
adopted only as a window-dressing gesture to appease

6. (SBU) Ansari's views were echoed by Syed Mohammed
Habibullah, a political science professor at Tribhuvan
University. The low quality of education available to
Muslim students at madrasas limits their professional
opportunities, ensuring that they remain marginalized
and out of mainstream Nepali society, he asserted. If
the GON continues to fail to remove some of the
inequities the Muslim community faces and makes no
effort to integrate them more fully into society,
disadvantaged Muslim youth could become willing recruits
for extremist movements, like the Maoists, that promise
social equality. Habibullah waved off poloff's question
about the popularity of Muslim extremist movements with
local communities; he said he regards the possible
appeal of Maoism as the greater threat.

7. (SBU) Like Ansari, Habibullah viewed the new
requirement as having little or no impact, for either
better or worse, on the madrasas' operations. That the
notice announcing the registration requirement was
issued by the Home Ministry, rather the Education
Ministry, casts suspicion on the motivation behind the
new requirement, Habibullah said. The notice was issued
without any prior consultation with the Muslim
community, he observed, which raises questions about the
GON's intent, especially since community members like
him have long urged the GON to take a more active role
in their improvement. For example, Habibullah said he
has approached the GON about forming a madrasa board,
with participation from the Muslim community, to oversee
and upgrade the operation of the schools.




8. (SBU) Requiring madrasas to register may help the
GON get a better handle on how many are operating within
its borders, but will do little by itself to address
Muslim community concerns about improving the quality of
the education they offer. The GON may lack the
resources to help address these concerns but can do a
better job of consulting the community on decisions that
affect them. The gap between the Ministry of
Education's official explanation for the new requirement
and the perception within the Muslim community of
underlying ulterior motives points to a fundamental lack
of communication the GON would do well to address.