ISLAMABAD  -  Pakistan is bidding to placate the United States before the Foreign Minister-level talks in New York by deciding to naturalise the Afghan refugees who were born in the country, officials said.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to offer Pakistani citizenship to thousands of Afghans born to refugee families.

Speaking at a public event in Karachi, PM Imran Khan said: “Afghans whose children have been raised and born in Pakistan will be granted citizenship because this is the established practice in countries around the world. You get an American passport if you are born in America.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had visited Kabul a day earlier to discuss Pak-Afghan ties and overall peace in the region with the Afghan leadership. Qureshi will brief his US counterpart Mike Pompeo about his talks with the Afghan leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that the PM’s announcement at a time when Pakistan and the US are trying to build trust was ‘meaningful.’

One official said: “This is an effort to placate both the US and Afghanistan. It is also a decision that is not opposed by anyone.”

Another official said Pakistan was hopeful to remove misunderstandings with the US. “Our efforts for Afghan peace will benefit us (Pakistan) in two ways. We will please the US and also improve ties with Afghanistan,” he added.

The United Nations refugee agency and local officials say there are 2.7 million Afghans, including 1.5 million registered as refugees, in Pakistan. The displaced families have fled decades of conflict, ethnic and religious persecution, poverty and economic hardships in turmoil-hit Afghanistan.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock met Prime Minister Imran Khan this month and expressed their gratitude to the people and government of Pakistan – acknowledging Pakistan’s generosity in hosting one of the world’s largest refugee populations for decades.

UN surveys suggest that around 60 per cent of Afghan refugees were either born in Pakistan or were minors when their parents migrated to Pakistan. War-shattered Afghanistan is therefore alien to most of these young people who were already part of the local economy in different ways.

These refugees are reluctant to go back to Afghanistan where security conditions have deteriorated in the wake of the stalemated war between US-backed Afghan security forces and the Taliban.

An official statement issued after Qureshi’s daylong trip to Kabul had said that in his meetings with Afghan leaders, the foreign minister “underlined the need for dignified, sustainable repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland through a gradual and time-bound plan.”

Meanwhile, Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that no approval had been given to use Pakistani land for India-Afghanistan trade.

Speaking to the BBC, Qureshi said that no such steps had been taken for the trade activities between both neighbouring countries.

US ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass had claimed that Pakistan had allowed to use its land for trade between India and Afghanistan. However, Qureshi said that there is a need to first resolve the technical and strategic issues linked with transit trade in the region.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan had hosted millions of Afghan refugees for almost four decades with dignity and honor. During this period Pakistan, he said, had extended life amenities like education and health at par with its own citizens.