Pakistani Prime Minister Considers Citizenship for Afghan Refugees
Last Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to grant Pakistani citizenship to millions of Afghan refugees. But after other politicians spoke out against his announcement, Khan said that his comments were simply intended to “start a debate” about refugee citizenship in Pakistan.
Khan made his surprise announcement during a fundraising event in Karachi — his first speech in the city since his victory in last month’s general elections.
“We will...god willing...give (passports) to those Afghans whose children were born here and grew up in Pakistan,” Khan acclaimed. "When you are born in America, you get the American passport. It is the practice in every country in the world, so why not here? Why are we so cruel to these people? They are humans," he continued.
Approximately 2.7 million Afghans have immigrated to Pakistan in the years following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Currently, over 1.39 million people are registered as Afghan refugees in Pakistan, according to UNHCR.
Additionally, Prime Minister Khan mentioned providing citizenship to the 200,000 Bengali refugees currently residing in Pakistan. Most of these refugees were displaced in 1971 during Bangladesh’s war of independence.
The leader’s sentiments were not met without opposition. Saeed Ghani, the leader of the opposing Pakistan People’s Party, responded that giving refugees citizenship might “cause problems.” Others have expressed concern over the feasibility of granting citizenship to millions of residents, with many seeing Khan’s stance as a diversion from the government’s empirical treatment of migrants.
Khan, a former cricket player, was elected as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in a landmark election just last month. He became chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party after founding it in 1996. No stranger to the public eye, Khan has served as a prominent and well-liked figure in Pakistani society for decades.
So far in his month as Prime Minister, however, Khan has received criticism for frequently changing his stances on different issues. Just two days after delivering his speech, Khan has already retracted part of his promise to refugees due to backlash. In a statement to the Pakistani Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Khan assured that he would seek other ministers’ opinions on the citizenship issue prior to his final decision. Many fear this type of fluctuation is a common pattern in Prime Minister Khan’s leadership style, pointing to a potentially dangerous path of indecisiveness for the remainder of his administration.