Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan is known for his maverick thinking. Many a time he receives criticism for going against the established norms. His recent announcement on his maiden visit to Karachi to grant citizenship to Afghan and Bengali refugees has stunned many. People have reacted to his statements differently. However, this editorial will look into what positive outcomes can Pakistan cultivate from such a step, especially granting Afghan refugees the citizenship.

First things first, such an announcement was much needed when there is a wide gap of trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many in Afghanistan see Pakistan as much responsible for instability in their country as they deem any other country. Such a drive can help Pakistan in winning hearts and minds of Afghan people. The announcement can help Pakistan counter Indian influence that is snowballing in Afghanistan. It is important to note that India, even though it is still a developing country, is pouring more money in Afghanistan’s development than almost all developed countries are. India is second only to America – not forgetting that under international law America is bound to reconstruct Afghanistan whereas no such compulsion binds India.

Can Pakistan compete with India financially as far as the reconstruction of Afghanistan is concerned? Clearly no. India’s assistance is not limited to development projects in Afghanistan. India is also providing humanitarian aid to Afghan patients. They are treated free in India. No wonder that many Afghan see India as a reliable partner and they welcome India’s growing influence in Kabul. In the midst of all such developments, Pakistan can overturn Indian schemes by granting citizenship to the Afghan people who are living on Pakistani soil for decades.

It is not that Imran Khan has offered these people anything out of the blue. It was always the law of the land but with no implementation. And at the same time, it a challenging task to achieve. However, Khan’s idea to grant citizenship to long-term refugees carries the potential of transforming their lives for good. The need is to avoid any controversy over this idea. Therefore, Mr Khan needs to consult the provinces and local communities for input on how to proceed with the citizenship issue.

Political affirmation and bureaucratic actions following Imran’s announcement are necessary to give these people support and certainty. Pakistan has a golden chance for once to hold the beacon of morality when the world is bitterly divided on how to deal with the refugees’ crisis. What important is that this issue should not be confused with the repatriation process.