ISLAMABAD -- The Pakistani government has released funds for the Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarship for Afghan students attending universities in the country.
Funds for the scholarship had been delayed for a year and a half because of a lack of funds for the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which oversees the programme.
"Government has released Rs. 1.551 billion [$9.3 million] to HEC to meet expenses of Afghan students who are studying under Pakistan's scholarship programme," Pakistan's Special Envoy to Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq said on Twitter on July 9.
"This important programme for Afghan youth was starving for resources over the last several months due to paucity of funds," he said.
The funds will go to a second batch of Afghan students after the Pakistani government created the programme in April 2018. The Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarship benefits youths studying in various fields, including medicine, engineering, agriculture, management and computer science.
The goal of the programme is "to strengthen bilateral relationships" and "enhance people-to-people contacts between the two countries", according to the HEC.
"We appreciate the release of the funds, which were stalled for a year and a half," said Ahmad Shakir Qarar, first secretary of the Afghan embassy in Islamabad.
"We are assured by the HEC that the funds will be transferred to universities soon so the students get them on time," he said July 13.
"Our embassy is also working with the HEC and the Foreign Office to work out a mechanism to facilitate the best possible return of Afghan students to Pakistan," said Qarar.
Encouraging friendly relations
Many Afghan students who were studying in Pakistan have now returned home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Still, they say they are pleased with the recent release of funds.
"There were problems earlier with food and accommodations for some of the students in Islamabad, but they are resolved now," said Akharullah, an Afghan student at the Institute of Management Sciences in Peshawar who was awarded a scholarship.
Akharullah, who is now in Afghanistan, praised the programme, but said some students still face administrative difficulties.
"The government gives us a cheque of Rs. 45,000 ($268) at the end of every semester, which takes a lot of energy and time to submit to bank accounts as we don't have our own accounts," he said.
He said he hopes the recent steps taken by the Pakistani government will facilitate Afghan students and encourage friendly relations between the two peoples.
Ihsanullah Afghan, another Afghan student, said he is happy with the funding decision. He has been waiting for the results of an assessment test he took as part of the application for the scholarship in Kabul last December.
The testing results were delayed by the same shortage of funds.
"I am among 15,000 students who took the assessment test held at five different places [in Afghanistan] from December 25-27, 2019," he said.
"Now, we are hopeful that the government of Pakistan will expedite the second phase for admission to the universities of Pakistan," he said.