Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday granted an extension in the stay of registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan for a further period of six months till December 31, 2016. The directive came the very day that the deadline had been set by the government after which the refugees were to repatriate regardless of their legal status.

It is worth mentioning that there are only 100,000 registered refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and the rest of the refugees must return to their homeland as soon as possible. This move is clearly a very generous goodwill gesture by the Prime Minister in light of the recent hostilities between the neighbouring countries. He has also promised that quantum of wheat shall be determined by a certified number of refugees returning from camps in Pakistan and authorised daily entitlement according to the standards of Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) for the next three years free of cost.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government on the other hand has expressed serious concern over PM Nawaz Sharif’s decision to extend the Afghan refugees’ stay as they had already launched a massive crackdown against illegal settlers, and had arrested over 2,000 Afghan refugees in Peshawar. The police have deported 500 illegals as a result of this crackdown. The frustration of the KP government is understandable; the decisions taken on the ground have to be maintained consistently in order to successfully repatriate the Afghan nationals.

The government has been adamant on the issue for a while and allowing further extensions in sending mixed signals.

Pakistan has been hosting three million Afghan refugees for the last three and a half decades, and it is time that the people of Afghanistan return to their homeland. Afghanistan has witnessed decades of violence and it is the citizens of the state who become victims and casualties of these conflicts. It is about time that the countries of this region work together to ensure long lasting peace for the sake of their people.