ISLAMABAD: Despite escalation of hostilities between Islamabad and Kabul in the backdrop of recent spate of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, the federal cabinet on Wednesday approved to extend for two months the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
The development coincided with the arrival of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief Masoom Stanekzai and Interior Minister Wais Barmak in Pakistan. The two officials reportedly met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other senior security officials at the PM Office.
“The cabinet approved grant of 60 days extension in the Proof of Registration (POR) cards for Afghan refugees,” said a statement issued after the cabinet meeting presided over by PM Abbasi.
Under a trilateral agreement signed by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Nations, Pakistan has issued the PoR cards to the Afghan refugees who are registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Extension in Afghan refugees’ stay beyond June 2018 unlikely
The PoR cards allow these refugees to live in Pakistan for a fixed time period set by the federal government, take up jobs here and even purchase property.
On December 31, 2017, the related extension given by the federal government on registered Afghan refugees’ stay in Pakistan expired following which the federal cabinet approved 30-day extension, the shortest ever, which came in effect from January 1 and expired on Tuesday [January 30].
Official sources privy to the matter said the Afghan side wanted Afghan refugees’ stay to be extended for “at least by this year-end” but the government was in no mood to entertain this request.
The proposal to extend the refugees stay by June 30 also remained under consideration but following the input of the security agencies, the cabinet approved 60-day extension effective from January 31 till March 31.
Afghan refugees may win extension in stay
The agenda for Afghan refugees’ stay extension was also part of a previous cabinet meeting but it was reportedly deferred after the PM and his aides decided to seek security agencies input.
Reportedly, the security establishment recommended against granting extension to Afghan refugees stay for more than two months, suggesting involvement of several Afghan refugees in terrorist activities, violence and other crimes in Pakistan.
Other agenda items
The PM Office statement said the cabinet also approved extension of the PM’s Fee Reimbursement Scheme for less developed areas. The Higher Education Commission chairman told the cabinet that the scheme would be extended to 114 districts of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Paktunkhwa, South Punjab, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The cabinet also approved appointment of protector of emigrants for Rawalpindi and Peshawar and the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Chinese Academy of Sciences and Pakistan Meteorological Department to promote science technology and innovation cooperation.
It also approved the MoU signed between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Republic of Sao Tome and Principe on bilateral consultation. It gave approval for signing of Executive Programme of Cultural Agreement between Pakistan and China from 2018-2022 and ratified the related decisions recently taken by the Cabinet Committee on Energy and Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet.