ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday justified his remarks about giving citizenship rights to Afghans and Bengalis born in Pakistan, but said the government had so far not taken any decision and would consult all political parties before taking a final decision on the matter.

The prime minister made the statement in the National Assembly after chief of his own Balochistan National Party (BNP) Sardar Akhtar Megal sought an explanation from the former over his remarks which he made during his recent visit to Karachi.

Mr Khan, who visited Karachi for the first time after assuming the office of prime minister, had linked the city’s street crime problem with its “growing underclass”.

“These people, who are originally from Bangladesh and Afghanistan, do not get passports or ID cards. [As a result], they do not get jobs. This is a deprived class in Karachi that goes towards crime as it has no other option,” the prime minister had said, vowing to recognise the neglected class as “citizens of Pakistan”.

Akhtar Mengal walks out of NA after not being allowed to respond to PM’s remarks

Speaking on a point of order, Mr Mengal said when such a statement was issued by a prime minister, it became a state policy. “We need an explanation,” the Baloch nationalist leader said, alleging that such an action would amount to the violation of the agreement reached between his party and the PTI at the time of forging an alliance after the elections.

Mr Mengal later staged a walkout when Speaker Asad Qaiser did not give him the floor to respond to the prime minister’s initial remarks. Opposition members belonging to the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal also protested over the issue and PML-N MNA Rohale Asghar even refused to present his resolution, which was on the agenda, in protest, asking the government to bring back Mr Mengal and give him the floor.

The prime minister acknowledged that the two parties had an agreement which stated that Afghan refugees would be sent back. However, he said, this was a human rights issue. “Every child who is born in a country has the right to citizenship,” Mr Khan said, giving examples of the United States and other western countries.

“This law is present all over the world and is a matter of human sympathy,” he said, adding: “Bengali refugees have been living in Pakistan for a long time. We can neither throw them out of the country nor are they citizens. If they do not get registered, they will be disappointed.”

Because of their non-citizenship, he said, these people were being exploited. “If we do not decide today, then when will we do this?” he asked. Mr Khan said there was a surge in street crime in Karachi because of these “underclass” people.

After Mr Mengal’s walkout, the prime minister took the floor again and assured the opposition parties that any policymaking on the matter would not be done without taking them into confidence.

“The refugees are also human beings and if we do not take a decision on this, there will be severe problems in society,” he said and asked the opposition to advise the government on the matter.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018