Opposition attacks PM's statement on citizenship for children of refugees

Published September 25, 2018
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari. — Photo/File
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari. — Photo/File

Prime Minister Imran Khan's statement earlier this month on granting citizenship to people of Bengali and Afghan parentage who were born in Pakistan sparked another debate in the assembly session on Tuesday.

The issue was raised jointly by opposition party PPP and one of the government allies, the Balochistan National Party (BNP), through a call to attention notice.

Criticising the statement, PPP's Nafeesa Shah termed the premier's statement "insensitive" and said that PM Khan had "failed to take the feelings of the locals" of Karachi into consideration.

She said that the prime minister made the statement without realising the 'sensitivities' of the metropolis, which she said had fought "civil wars" over resources.

Drawing a somewhat confusing analogy, Shah complained that while PM Khan talks fondly about the state of Madina, "he forgets that Pakistani immigrants living in Saudi Arabia for decades have never been able to secure citizenship".

She also demanded that the government prepare data on refugees and immigrants currently living in the country before taking any major decision.

Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar also lashed out at the premier's statement, calling it "irresponsible".

"Prime Minister Khan must realise that after becoming premier, he does not only represent his party, but the entire country," she said. "He can take U-turns as his party's head, but not as the prime minister — [that too] on such important issues."

BNP Chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal also opposed the proposal and called for a thorough debate on the issue. He lamented that the government was considered granting citizenship to Bengali and Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds, while the Baloch people were not even treated as human beings in their own country.

He regretted that illegal immigrants can continue to live in the country "simply by paying a Rs500 fine" and go on to accumulate property worth millions.

This was not the first time that Mengal had voiced his opposition to the idea. In a previous session, he had walked out of the assembly during a debate on the same issue in the presence of PM Khan.

Responding to the arguments raised by PPP and BNP, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said that the government was ready to debate the issue before taking any decision.

She told the house that PM Khan had met with Mengal and assured him that the ruling PTI will consult all parties before arriving at a decision.

Mazari also assured Shah that the PTI government had started to compile statistics and the report will be presented to parliament soon. She criticised previous administrations for "never raising the issue".

Mazari also squarely criticised the PPP, saying that the party had never bothered to collect data about the people living in Karachi despite being in power for more than a decade.

She also referred to Shah's strange analogy about the state of Madinah and Saudi Arabia's modern immigration policies, pointing out that Saudi Arabia is not really representative of the state of Madina that PM Khan aspires to.

She further said that the Citizenship Act of 1951 grants citizenship status to everyone who is born in Pakistan.

"Whether you like it or not, it is the law that those born in Pakistan are Pakistani nationals," Mazari said, but added that the house could amend the law it can.

Mazari also stated that the forceful eviction of Afghan refugees was not possible. She also stated that the Bengalis could no longer be considered citizens of Bangladesh as they had opted to live in Pakistan.


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