Pakistani Church against cutting funds for minorities to finance a pro-Taliban madrassa
by Kamran Chaudhry

Many have slammed the decision. The Islamic school has trained terrorists operating at home and in Afghanistan and is slated to get funds otherwise earmarked for the province’s minorities. One of its former students is among those who assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Muslim clerics defend the decision.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has cut funds for minorities and re-allocated them for a controversial religious school (madrassa) headed by Maulana Sami-ul Haq, also known as the ‘Father of the Taliban’.

Christian leaders and opposition parties have denounced the decision. “We strongly condemn this injustice,” said Fr Morris Jalal, who sits on the board of directors of a Lahore-based Catholic TV station. “This is state sponsored terrorism. According to the National Action plan, the facilitators of terrorists are equal to criminals. What bigger help than financial assistance,” he said.

On 16 June, the provincial government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, whose national leader is cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, announced that Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Nowshera district would get Rs300 million (US.865 million) for 2016-17.

This would be done by reducing funds for the province’s religious minorities. In the last financial year (2015-16), the province allocated Rs117 million (52.70%) for minority communities. This year (2016-17), that dropped to Rs86 million (23.49%).

“This is why Khan is known as Taliban Khan,” Fr Jalal said. “He has a religious mind set, and openly talks against the West, condemns drone strikes on Taliban leaders and always supports peace talks with them.”

A few days ago, Christian members of the Pakistan Christian Congress (an opposition party in the province) also criticised the government’s decision.

Some of the “graduates of Maulana Sami-ul Haq’s school have been accused of murdering former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, killed in 2007 by members of al-Qaeda for her opposition to terrorism.

Ul-Haq is also well known for promoting armed jihad. Many of his students have gone to neighbouring Afghanistan. “What bigger help than financial assistance?” Fr Jalal added.

“Taxpayers’ money was earmarked for religious minorities who are poor and have little resources,” he lamented.

Even former president Asif Ali Zardari also blasted Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Pakistan for “legitimising militancy and Taliban militants” and undermining the nation’s resolve to fight them to the finish.

Some ulema and Islamic parties instead support the decision. Contacted by AsiaNews, they pleaded ignorance with mismanagement of minorities funds.

“Financial assistance is always provided to Islamic seminaries and organisations by both federal and provincial governments in every tenure,” said Maulana Abdul Khabeer Azad, Khateeb of Badshahi Masjid, the largest mosque in Lahore.

“Students in these schools are usually from poor families and deserve the aid and Zakat (religious tax) funds. We should not entangle this charity in debates which cause confusion”.

Jamaat-e-Islami Information Secretary Ameerul Azeem also dismissed any Christian criticism against the controversial madrassa. “The head of the seminary, Maulana Sami-ul Haq, is a former senator. Religious people have a voice in our democratic state. Reputation is a vague term. America sees the whole Pakistan as pro-Taliban. We reject their views”, he said.