ISLAMABAD: While reiterating its commitment to extend all possible support, the federal cabinet has asked the international community to shoulder its obligations with regard to repatriation of millions of Afghan refugees.
“The international community should also fulfill its obligations towards shouldering this responsibility to ensure smooth repatriation and rehabilitation of the refugees,” said a statement issued on Tuesday by the PM Office after the cabinet’s weekly huddle presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Official sources privy to the meeting told The Express Tribune that the cabinet, after thorough consultations, approved ‘Afghan refugees’ management and repatriation policy 2018’ which laid down a detailed roadmap for Afghan refugees’ repatriation to their native country.
The same policy was part of the cabinet meeting held on Feb 6 but the decision to grant the related approval was deferred then after the PM decided to hold discussions with the relevant stakeholders including the army and the governments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, sources said.
The ‘Afghan refugees’ management and repatriation policy 2018’ will come into effect from April 1, after the related extension to allow Afghan refugees stay in Pakistan expires on March 31, sources said.
This, the insiders said, is a clear indication that Pakistan does not intend to give any further extension to Afghan refugees stay in Pakistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should take effective steps for their speedy repatriation.
“Noting that the cabinet has twice granted extension in validity of Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, it was decided that the government would extend all possible facilitation towards voluntary repatriation of Afghan Refugees holding PoR cards,” said a press release after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
Under a trilateral agreement signed by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Nations, Pakistan has issued PoR cards to the Afghan refugees who are registered with the UNHCR. The PoR cards allow these refugees to live in Pakistan for a fixed time period set by the 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, for Afghan refugees, which came into effect from January 1.
Official sources said Afghanistan wanted Pakistan to extend Afghan refugees’ stay ‘at least by this year-end’ while 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 suggesting involvement of several Afghan refugees in terrorist activities, violence and other heinous crimes in Pakistan, the cabinet approved granting 60-day extension on January 31, upon the expiry of previous extension.
NEPRA’s recommendation declined
The cabinet rejected recommendation of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) for upward revision of power tariff and decided to maintain the existing power tariff.
The cabinet approved nomination of director on the board of directors of Sui Southern Gas Company. Reconstitution of the board of directors of the Export Processing Zones Authority and ex-officio members in case of Utility Stores Corporations were also approved.
The cabinet approved appointment of the Karachi Port Trust’s general manager engineering. Proposal for grant of additional charge of the post of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority chairman was also approved.
The meeting also approved appointment of executive member of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).
Discussing the issue of land lease between the Pakistan Steel Mills and the National Industrial Parks Development and Management Company, the cabinet “reiterated its resolve to promote foreign investment in the country.”
It was decided to constitute a committee, headed by privatisation minister, to look into the matter and present its recommendations during next meeting. Report of the committee constituted for naming of new Islamabad International Airport was also presented during the meeting.
It was decided that the members may consider recommendations made in the said report for reaching a consensus name during the next meeting, according to the press release.