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Provincial Government in Pakistan Under Criticism for Aiding Controversial School

FILE - Pakistani religious students attend a lesson at Darul Uloom Haqqania, an Islamic seminary in Akora Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Sept. 14, 2013.
FILE - Pakistani religious students attend a lesson at Darul Uloom Haqqania, an Islamic seminary in Akora Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Sept. 14, 2013.

The provincial government of Pakistan's northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province came under sharp criticism for giving an Islamic seminary $2.5 million (Rs.277 million) in aid.

The government, led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, used government funds to support Darul Uloom Haqqania, a religious seminary. Pakistani religious schools have long been blamed for producing extremists.

"Government is supporting extremist elements — this will not help any move to curb militancy in the country. And if Pakistan is blamed for supporting militants, this proves it," Syed Alam Mehsud, president of nationalist party Wolesi Tehreek, told VOA.

The same provincial government provided Rs.300million ($2,700,000) to the same religious school last year.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government responded to the criticism, asserting that financial aid is necessary to improve the religious schools and equip them to teach modern science.

The move has been criticized on multiple platforms, including the social and political arena. Some critics suspect the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government is using public funds for personal political gain.

It is believed that Taliban leaders, including former Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, attended Darul Uloom Haqqnia, run by Maulana Samiul Haq.

During an interview with Reuters, Haq called Omar "one of his best students."Haq is also known as the "Father of the Taliban." In a 2013 interview with Reuters, he supported the Afghan Taliban.

"Give them just one year, and they will make the whole of Afghanistan happy," he said.

Pakistan-based madrasas

The Afghan government has long blamed Pakistani madrasas (religious schools) for producing extremists, and charge that the increase in violence in Afghanistan has roots in the schools.

"The reason that terrorism still exists in Afghanistan, although Afghan forces have killed thousands of them, are the madrasas on the other side of the Durand Line (the border line separating the two countries) that produce terrorists," General Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesperson for Afghan Defense Ministry, told VOA.

Radmanesh added there are an estimated 10,000 religious schools operating in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, some of which, he claimed, train militants for jihad in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to terrorist groups that train on its soil to carry out terror attacks across the border in Afghanistan. The claim that Pakistan is selective in its crackdown on terror groups.

Pakistan denies these allegations and maintains that its military operations have targeted militants of all kinds.

"Military-led counterterrorism operations have targeted terrorists indiscriminately, including Haqqanis, at a heavy cost of blood and treasure," Pakistan army spokesperson Major-General Asif Ghafoor told VOA following an announcement last year of the Trump administration's proposal to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan.

Pakistan under scrutiny

Pakistan has three months to convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that the country is complying with international anti-terrorist financing regulation to avoid being placed on a global terrorist-financing watch list.

In an attempt to demonstrate compliance with FATF regulation, Pakistan amended its anti-terrorism law early February. The change authorized the government to blacklist charities linked to Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed.

Saeed has been wanted by the United States since 2012 for planning the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The list also includes Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and its subsidiary, the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), which according to experts, serves as the front organizations for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistani authorities announced a new program aimed at preventing billions of dollars in public donations to charities from ending up with banned militant groups.

The "Safer Charity" initiative announced two weeks ago urges people to use caution and donate to responsible humanitarian organizations. The move comes amid concerns that some militant organizations are using front organizations to collect money allegedly for humanitarian work.

According to government officials, people in Pakistan donate up to $4.5 billion annually to help the poor and needy as part of fulfilling the religious obligation of almsgiving, or Zakat.

The new program urges citizens to ensure the groups to whom they are donating have not been banned by the government.