LAHORE -  The Higher Education Commission Thursday organised an award distribution ceremony for a new batch of 3,000 Afghan students under the Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarship Programme.

These students will pursue their higher education in different universities of Pakistan. These scholarships, which will be awarded over a period of five years, have been offered after success of the first phase launched in 2009 through Ministry of Education and Ministry for Inter-Provincial Coordination for provision of 3,000 scholarships. Those students who were awarded scholarship in that phase have completed their studies and returned to Afghanistan.

The award ceremony held at a local hotel in Lahore was presided over by Malik Muhammad Rafique Rajwana, Governor Punjab. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, Chairman HEC, Mr. Omer Zakhilwal, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan, Advisor to Minister of Education in Afghanistan Amanullah Faqiri and Mr. Zahid Nasrullah Khan, and Ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan were also present.

Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, Chairman of HEC, welcomed the students who had been selected on fully funded scholarships in top universities of Pakistan. The chairman informed that the Higher Education Commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Education Afghanistan conducted test in Afghanistan and selected these students in Phase-II of scholarships as the first phase of award of scholarship has been completed. Moreover, merit list for MPhil and PhD programmes is under process, he stated.

Dr Mukhtar maintained the HEC believes in person to person and institution to institution relations that is why we are working on inviting Afghan faculty members of their Universities to stay, live and work here in Pakistan. He further reiterated that HEC will provide support in Quality assurance and human resource development of Afghan Education System. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed in his closing remarks advised Afghan students that both nations have faced vulnerable situation since 1979. Now, time had come to spend energies on constructive things instead of wasting time on destruction.

Punjab Governor Rafiq Rajwana said: “We are proud of hosting Afghan students in Pakistani Universities. He said that after completion of studies in Pakistan these young students will become ambassadors of Pakistan to Afghanistan.”

The governor further said that the international world is concerned about bilateral relations of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We need to change their perception about our relations as both countries share historical past, have cultural resemblance and a similar religion along with a common geography, “ he added. He directed representatives of Afghan delegation to promote bilateral relations by informing their people about hospitality of Pakistani people.

Amanullah Faqiri, Adviser of Education Minister, in Afghanistan congratulated students of winning scholarship. He told the students that he is also a Graduate from Pakistani University in Business Administration. He told students to be change agents and after completion of their degrees convey their good memories and message of peace back to their hometown.

Omer Zakhilwal congratulated HEC for the ceremony and successful completion of Phase-I of this scholarship scheme and launching of Phase-II of the scheme. He informed that Allama Iqbal is equally appraised, accredited and respected in Afghanistan as in Pakistan. He added that relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are multi-dimensional and we are celebrating one important dimension of student exchange. It is desire and wish of our people to be in good relations with Pakistani people, he underscored.

 Zahid Nasrullah Khan, Ambassador to Pakistan, told Afghan students that literacy rate of women in Afghanistan is very low. That is why government of Pakistan is offering 100 dedicated scholarships to female Afghan students as no nation can progress without providing education to their women.

He told students that the embassy of Pakistan to Afghanistan has a dedicated officer to provide assistance to Afghan students. He further informed that every month embassy of Pakistan to Afghanistan is issuing 3,000 visas monthly and 350,000 annually. The Afghan students who were given scholarships in Phase-I of the scheme also shared their views .