Consultations with senior government officials on Afghan Refugees

government consultations

February 28, 2017: CODE PAKISTAN held a consultative session with senior Government of Pakistan officials in Islamabad as part of the National Consultations on Afghan Refugees in Pakistan. Team CODE PAKISTAN gave the senior officials of the Government of Pakistan a detailed presentation about the two rounds of national consultations on Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The presentation covered, in detail, the background, key takeaways, and recommendations of the two rounds of consultations. The participating senior government officials not only appreciated CODE PAKISTAN’s efforts in holding the National Consultations on Afghan Refugees in Pakistan but also urged it to continue supporting the government in the process of drafting of a national refugee legislation and developing a narrative on Afghan refugees for national and international audiences.

The National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Nasser Khan Janjua HI(M) was the chief guest of the event. In his remarks, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Janjua called for viewing the issue of Afghan refugees in connection with other related issues like regional security and connectivity. “For me, it is not an isolated dot,” he said. He called attention toward the government-to-government relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the relations between India and Pakistan on the one hand and India and Afghanistan on the other. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Janjua said that the Government of Afghanistan needed to realize the country’s potential of becoming a trade conduit with Central Asia. “In fact, becoming a trade corridor is the future of Afghanistan which it is not realizing at the moment,” he said. “Keep doing your good work but keep the larger picture in mind while discussing Afghan refugees,” added Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Janjua, while urging CODE PAKISTAN to continue its efforts in the field.

Secretary SAFRON Muhammad Shehzad Arbab also commended the work of CODE PAKISTAN in the important field of Afghan refugees. He also appreciated the fact that the Government of Pakistan was already working on implementing some of the recommendations of the consultations and that the thinking of the government was in sync with the recommendations of the experts. He added that a long and tedious process had culminated in the approval of the national policy on Afghan refugees in Pakistan in a cabinet meeting on February 7. He also highlighted the fact that the national policy on Afghan refugee was drafted after input from the political party leadership of the country. “The national refugee policy is thus a consensus document,” he said. Mr. Arbab urged CODE PAKISTAN to continue providing advisory services to the office of the Chief Commissioner Afghan Refugees, Ministry of SAFRON, Government of Pakistan, especially on the issues of national refugee legislation and building a narrative on Afghan refugees for national and international audiences.

Chief Commissioner Afghan Refugees Dr. Imran Zeb acknowledged the efforts of CODE PAKISTAN for managing the consultations. He highlighted that the most preferred solution for Afghan refugees was their voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan. Dr. Zeb completely rejected the idea of citizenship for Afghan refugees born in Pakistan. “It is a legal, administrative, and political non-starter because several such communities are living in Pakistan and it would open up a plethora of unwanted problems,” he said. Dr. Zeb further said, “I would suggest that this aspect is not taken any further.” He added, however, that the subject of the national refugee law was very important. “Since the cabinet has already given approval for it, we can start the process,” he said. He was of the view, however, that there was a need for having an inclusive process for the drafting of the national refugee law. Dr. Zeb called for involving the political parties into the process once again for the drafting of the national refugee law alongside inter-ministerial and inter-provincial consultations. “CODE could play a very important role in that,” said Dr. Zeb. He said that although Pakistan was according all sorts of facilities to the Afghan refugees, an institutional mechanism was still lacking that could come about with the adoption of a comprehensive national refugee law. “For that, we would be happy to work with CODE or UNHCR,” he said.

Representative UNHCR Mr. Indrika Ratwatte congratulated CODE PAKISTAN for successfully holding the National Consultations on Afghan Refugees in Pakistan. Mr. Ratwatte was of the view that although Pakistan had done a lot for refugees in the spirit of brotherliness and generosity, the Government of Pakistan had not been able to publicize it as effectively. He added that it was in the best interest of Pakistan to have a national refugee law that would distinguish between a refugee and non-refugee. He said that UNHCR would support a process to that end. He further added that registration of undocumented Afghans was very important for the national security of Pakistan. Mr. Ratwatte suggested that since the Government of Pakistan would initiate a process of documentation of national population in the form of a national census, it could also be used for documenting the Afghans. Mr. Ratwatte was of the opinion that a flexible visa regime would facilitate the Afghans who come to Pakistan not as refugees but for other reasons such as livelihood, family relations, healthcare, education etc. “Documented entry and exit through the flexible visa regime would really help,” he said. Mr. Ratwatte shared that UNHCR had prioritized youth empowerment with respect to refugees for making them agents of stability rather than instability. Mr. Ratwatte appreciated the generosity extended to Afghan refugees not only on the part of the Government of Pakistan but also on the part of its people.

Consultant CODE PAKISTAN Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Tahir Habib Siddiqui agreed with Mr. Ratwatte on including documentation of Afghans in the census exercise. “Since the Government of Pakistan is undertaking the census, it could actually make provision for documenting the Afghans as refugees or otherwise,” he said. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Siddiqui was of the view that documentation of Afghans could be helpful in creating a structure for the reintegration of Afghan refugees. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Siddiqui was unsure whether the Afghan government was able to issue passports that could not be forged.

Director General Research at NACTA Mr. Mohammad Jaffer was of the opinion that without addressing the issue of border management, the issues of undocumented Afghans and implementing a visa regime could not be tackled. Mr. Jaffer called for differentiating between Afghans coming to Pakistan as refugees or for economic opportunities.

Director General Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Saad Khattak highlighted the role that could be played by ulema in narrative-building about Afghan refugees. “Maybe we could also consider involving the Sufi ulema in building the narrative and bringing the people of the two countries together,” he said. Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan Amb. (Retd.) Arif Ayub said that Pakistan needed to avoid actions that could spoil the goodwill of Afghans toward Pakistan after hosting them for so long as refugees.

Other participants of the consultative session were Commissioner Afghan Refugees Islamabad Mr. Saleem Khan, Commissioner Afghan Refugees Punjab Mr. Riaz Hameed Chaudhry, Commissioner Afghan Refugees Sindh Mr. Ghazanfar Ali Agha, DG Commissionerate Afghan Refugees Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mr. Waqar Maroof, Deputy Secretary Ministry of Interior Mr. Tariq Aleem Gill, Executive Director CODE PAKISTAN Mr. Aarish Khan, and Ms. Ihrat Riaz from NADRA.