ISLAMABAD: The deadline for the repatriation of Afghan nationals will probably be extended till 2018, as political parties on both sides of the ideological spectrum have increased pressure on the government in this regard.

The decision was taken on Monday at an in-camera conference of parliamentary parties, chaired by Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch. The participants in the meeting, however, decided that a new date for the deadline would not be announced to the public.

Speaking to reporters after the conference, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said they had arrived at the decision to repatriate 1.5 million Afghan nationals by the end of 2017. Other participants at the conference, however, explained that the date could be extended up till 2018.

Mr Qureshi said it was strange that even political parties in the government were not on the same page regarding repatriation. “We noted that there was no national law regarding refugees in the country...we must do something about this,” he said.

Yet even senior members of the PTI appeared to have differing opinions on the subject, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak opposing the extension of the deadline. “There has to be a deadline — the issue of repatriation cannot be left open-ended,” he told the media.

One of the participants at the conference told Dawn that Mr Khattak had vehemently opposed an extension of the earlier deadline set for March 31, 2017. “He said that his own shops had been rented out to some Afghan nationals but that did not mean that it added to the province’s economy.”

Mr Khattak had gone on to say that his province had suffered because of the presence of many undocumented people and demanded a plan to deal with the situation.

The participant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had decided to ‘unofficially’ extend the deadline to 2018 but would not announce it publicly as it could negatively impact the government’s efforts to repatriate the nationals.

Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo, too, stressed the need for a speedy exit of Afghan nationals.

“There is peace in Afghanistan and Bangladesh now — so nationals of both countries return and help rebuild their respective countries,” Senator Bizenjo, also minister for ports and shipping, said. “Law and order remains the main issue in the country...[it is] due to the presence of so many undocumented people,” he said, adding, “We are not following the right direction — why should we have polling stations for Afghan elections in Quetta or Peshawar?”

On the other hand, political parties, which are ideologically poles apart, including the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP), the Awami National Party, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and the Jamaat-i-Islami, had requested the government to extend the deadline.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2016

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