The real estate sector in Peshawar is losing impetus after being plagued by uncertainty due to the Pakistan government’s decision to repatriate all Afghan refugees by the end of 2016. The repatriation of Afghan refugees has badly affected property markets in the areas where refugees own land. The situation has confused real estate investors in the city, leading to a slowdown in the market. The question that arises is, how will this impact the real estate market of Peshawar city after the departure of some of its most prolific investors?

More than 1.7 million refugees fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the neighbouring countries in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s to escape the Afghan War and other regional conflicts. A large number of these refugees settled in Peshawar and other areas of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP), formerly known as North-West Frontier Province, and made it their home. After the passage of more than three decades, many children have been born to Afghan families on Pakistani soil and many Afghan families have invested heavily in Peshawar’s real estate market.These refugees’ ownership of Peshawar property has now become a bone of contention between them and the Pakistani state, and both parties are looking to find a solution to this problem.

Citizens Without Identity

Though the Pakistani government is making all-out efforts to facilitate the repatriation of Afghan refugees in a timely and hassle-free manner, the entire process is more than just a walk in the park. Much of it has to do with the fact that many of the refugees were issued Pakistani CNICs by the National Database and Registration Authority,which allowed them to legally establish businesses in this country and even purchase properties. Now that the time has come for the refugees to return home, those who bought properties in Peshawar have to sell their investment before undertaking the journey back home. Presently, however, the situation seems to be headed towards a diplomatic disaster.

According to some media reports, the Pakistani CNICs issued to Afghan refugees have been blocked by the government, throwing many Afghan refugees into a conundrum. The problem that has arisen is that, without an active CNIC, refugees cannot sell or transfer their Peshawar homes to new buyers. As a result, there are not many buyers in the Peshawar property market who are willing to purchase property that is being sold by an Afghani refugee. This has given rise to an interesting situation,where all transaction activities in the Peshawar property market have been effectively stalled.

Positive Initiatives Taken by the KP Government

The KP government has taken serious steps to ensure that the repatriation of all Afghan refugees living in the province proceeds smoothly. One such measure is the extension of the deadline for refugees to declare possession of a Pakistani CNIC, which might create a small window of opportunity for Afghan refugees to sell their properties quickly and at a good price. On the other hand, those refugees who had invested in the Peshawar property market under the names of their relatives or local friends in Pakistan have not faced any problems when it comes to finding buyers at reasonable market rates. This particular refugee group has been involved in the sale and purchase activity with relative ease, unlike the vast majority of Afghans living here.

Peshawar’s Real Estate Agents Concerned

A survey conducted by online property portal Zameen.com on real estate agents of Peshawar showed that Peshawar properties owned by Afghan refugees have dropped 30% in value in the past few months. Nonetheless, there are some interested buyers in the market who are willing to purchase such properties at a price that is lower than the actual market rate.

On the other hand, many buyers prefer to steer clear of such properties considering the fact that the land they purchase will face countless legal complications, especially during the property transfer process. Another outcome these investors fear is receiving forged property documents, which will naturally lead to conflicts if there is more than one alleged owner of a single plot of land.

Real estate agents in Peshawar are concerned about the situation that the Peshawar property market is currently facing. For instance, the slowdown of buying and selling activities in the realty sector has also stalled new development projects that were undertaken in Peshawar by the provincial government.

Searching for a Win-Win Solution

With the extension given to Afghan refugees by the Pakistani government to declare their possession of Pakistani CNICs, it is possible for refugees to prevent the state from confiscating their properties and avoid being confronted with legal notices. Those not in possession of a CNIC will have to wait for the KP government to figure out a procedure through which refugees can sell their properties and leave for their homeland.

While the shrewdest investors are patiently waiting to see the rates of such properties fall even further before they make a purchase, another group of buyers simply wish to buy land on urgent basis if an official solution is provided by the state. Let us then hope that the Pakistani government finds a way to help these refugees sell their properties and use the capital to start anew in a landwhich most of them won’t even recognize after the political turmoil that Afghanistan has suffered through in the past few decades.