Photo: Radio Pakistan

Pakistan awards 4,500 scholarships to Afghan students amid refugee crackdown

The caretaker government of Pakistan has announced 4,500 fully funded scholarships for students from Afghanistan to study in different fields at top-ranked Pakistani universities over the next three years. This announcement comes amid the government’s ongoing crackdown on undocumented Afghan refugees.

Pakistan’s Education Minister Madad Ali Sindhi, speaking at the graduation ceremony for 281 Afghan students on Thursday, November 2, emphasized his country’s important role in providing higher education opportunities to Afghan students through scholarships. He announced that the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) has launched the third phase of the Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarships Programme, which will award 4,500 scholarships to students from Afghanistan over a period of three years.

Pakistan has awarded approximately 6,000 scholarships to students from Afghanistan under the Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarship Scheme during the first two phases of the program. The second phase, offered in 2020, provided scholarships to 3,000 students in various fields, including medicine, engineering, agriculture, social science, and computer science.

During the graduation ceremony, the Chairman of HEC, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, praised the Afghan graduates for their hard work and academic excellence, especially those who secured top positions in their fields. He highlighted the symbiotic relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, urging the students to become ambassadors for their home country’s development.

It is uncertain whether female students from Afghanistan will be able to benefit from this scholarship opportunity, given the Taliban’s ban on female students pursuing higher education in Afghanistan. In August 2023, in line with their longstanding ban on education for women and girls, Taliban authorities prevented a group of female students from boarding a plane to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to take up fully funded scholarships to pursue university studies.

Pakistan’s offer of scholarships to students from Afghanistan coincides with its ongoing crackdown on undocumented Afghan refugees. The caretaker government of Pakistan recently launched a large-scale operation against illegal foreign nationals. Pakistani police have reportedly arrested and forcibly deported over 160,000 Afghan refugees through the Torkham and Chaman borders in recent days. According to Radio Pakistan, approximately 19,344 Afghan refugees were deported on Thursday alone. Pakistan’s policy of mass deportations has had a devastating impact on the lives of millions of people, especially those who worked with foreign forces during the past two decades, employees and military personnel of the previous government, women’s rights activists, and journalists who may face imprisonment, torture, or even execution at the hands of the Taliban.