ISLAMABAD  -  Pakistan will devise a comprehensive policy on Afghan refugees before giving them any extension for stay in the country, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Thursday.

Briefing the journalists after the federal cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan here, he said there were 879,198 Afghan refugees who had citizen cards of Afghanistan but were living in Pakistan.

Chaudhry said 1,394,000 Afghans had refugee cards while 500,000 were unregistered. The minister added that around two million Afghan refugees were registered.

This month Prime Minister Imran Khan had pledged to offer Pakistani citizenship to thousands of Afghans born to refugee families.

The PM had 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 this month to discuss Pak-Afghan ties and overall peace in the region with the Afghan leadership.

Qureshi, now in New York, will brief his US counterpart Mike Pompeo about his talks with the Afghan leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

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 percent 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.

During his visit to Kabul, Qureshi had “underlined the need for dignified, sustainable repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland through a gradual and time-bound plan.”

Fawad Chaudhry said the cabinet appointed Director General Financial Monitoring Unit as part of compliance with Financial Action Task Force regime. He said Wage Board Chairman Justice Abdur Rauf had been appointed to make it effective.

Chaudhry said in order to tighten noose against tax defaulters, Federal Board of Revenue will start operation against big defaulters from next week.

The minister said that vast lands had been retrieved in Islamabad. He said operation to retrieve lands in Karachi had also started and so far 7,000 kanals (around 875 acre) had been recovered from encroachers.

The minister said the cabinet decided to further strengthen the Right to Information Act in order to bring transparency in governance and citizens’ right to know.

The cabinet decided that tax exemptions for the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and the Provincially Administrated Tribal Areas will be retained for five years.

“The prime minister directed all ministers to promote meritocracy and not give recommendations or receive recommendations for favour,” he said.

The PM also directed to increase the use of information technology to save precious resources and move towards paperless economy, he added. The minister said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had signed three agreements of grants.

He said the accords were continuation of Prime Minister Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia, adding that under these agreements, Riyadh will invest in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and formation and development of Pakistan’s basic infrastructure. A Saudi delegation will arrive in Pakistan on September 30 in this regard, he said.



Comprehensive policy on refugees on the cards