Even as Pakistan grapples with hard-line Islamic militancy, with regular attacks across the country claiming dozens of lives, the provision of a $3 million grant by one of its provincial governments to a seminary dubbed the "University of Jihad" has unsettled many and prompted sharp criticism.
Leaders from the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province announced the grant to the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary in a provincial-assembly meeting last week, the Washington Post reports. According to government officials, the institution currently houses around 4,000 students.
"A large number of students study, live and eat in this seminary, and it's doing great service for the poor people," the province's Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani told the Post.
However, the highly controversial seminary is known as a breeding ground for Islamic militants, advocating an extreme form of Islam known as Deobandi that supports Shari’a law. Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban, and Asim Umar, the head of extremist group al-Qaeda's South Asian affiliate, are both believed to have studied there, as is the head of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
"The Taliban are killing our children, and our government is giving money to their sympathizers," said Pakistani Senator Shahi Syed.
However, the country's central government leaders, including aides of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, insist that the disbursement of funds is a purely local decision.