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Extension of Afghan refugees’ stay under consideration, Senate told

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AMIR WASIM

ISLAMABAD: The Minister for States and Frontier Regions, retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, informed the Senate on Thursday that a summary for extension of Afghan refugees’ stay in Pakistan till Dec 31 next year was under consideration of the federal cabinet.

In reply to a question by Samina Abid of the PTI, the minister said the Afghan refugees who had obtained national identity cards by any means would be considered Pakistanis and they would stay here till the cancellation of their cards and grant of refugee status.

Mr Baloch said he had held a number of meetings with the Afghan authorities on the repatriation of refugees, but Kabul was not ready to accept them because of its poor economic condition. According to him, the Afghan government said it could not accommodate over three million refugees without having a proper infrastructure and other required arrangements.

Last month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif granted six months of “temporary” extension to the Afghan refugees whose legal stay in Pakistan expired in December last year.

Govt plans review of Land Reforms Act

Pakistan has been hosting millions of documented and undocumented Afghan nationals for 35 years and granting extension to the registered refugees since 2009.

At a tripartite commission meeting held in Kabul in August last year, the Afghan government had requested Islamabad to extend the stay till Dec 2018.

Qadir Baloch told the house that repatriation of the registered Afghans was guided by the principle of “voluntarism” as embedded in the tripartite agreement signed by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan and UNHCR. Pakistan cannot forcefully send the refugees to their country.

At present, he said, 1.55 million registered Afghan refugees with Proof of Registration cards were living in Pakistan. He said he could not provide an exact number of unregistered Afghan refugees, but added that their number was much higher than the registered refugees.

LAND REFORMS: In reply to a question by Karim Ahmed Khawaja of the PPP, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government wanted to review the Land Reforms Act 1977 and the issue would be on the agenda of the next meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

Mr Rashid, who also holds the portfolio of law ministry, explained that since certain provisions of the Act were held repugnant to the injunctions of Islam by the Shariat Appellant Bench of the Supreme Court in 1999, there was a proposal to make the law in conformity with the injunctions of Islam in the light of Article 203-D of the Constitution.

It was proposed that the Act be amended in consultation with provincial land commissions through a bill. A summary and an amendment bill had been placed before the federal cabinet at a meeting in Jan 2005. It was decided that the law minister would look into the matter and hold consultations with the stakeholders concerned.

Mr Rashid said a revised summary and an amendment bill had been pending with the Law Division since 2013. However, he said, the Workers Party had filed a petition against the federation seeking to set aside the SC judgment by which certain provisions of the law were declared repugnant to Islam.

“The matter is of supreme importance and has great implications at the national level and the acceptance of the petition of the Workers Party will reinvigorate the presently stalled process of land reforms. Therefore, for a common stand at the national level involving all the provincial governments, it has been decided to place the matter before the CCI for consideration so that a unanimous stand could be submitted to the SC,” the minister said.

The issue generated a debate of sorts and senators asked the minister to categorically state whether or not the Land Reforms Act 1977 was in force after the SC judgment. The minister said the Act was very much intact.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said he wondered how a review petition could be filed in court 12 years after the judgment.

Karim Khawaja said he differed with the minister’s contention that the law was intact, saying that under the Act, no one could possess more than 100 acres of land. “But there are people who own thousands of acres.”

The minister asked him to name the persons so that he could place the details before the house.

The PPP senator asked Chairman Raza Rabbani to refer the issue to a special committee.

But Mr Rabbani said he would issue any such directive after waiting for a decision by the CCI.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2016

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