Pakistani premier’s citizenship offer to Afghans meets ire at home but gratitude in Afghanistan

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Afghan refugee children play with tires in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 6, 2017. Prime Minister Imran Khan has offered citizenship to Pakistan-born Afghan and Bengali refugees. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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A Bengali immigrant living in Pakistan makes tea at his stall in Karachi on September 17, 2018. (AFP / ASIF HASSAN)
Updated 18 September 2018

Pakistani premier’s citizenship offer to Afghans meets ire at home but gratitude in Afghanistan

  • Nearly a quarter of a million Bengalis and Afghans in Karachi alone cannot get decent jobs owing to lack of national identity cards
  • The constitution of Pakistan allows citizenship to third generations of Bengali and Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, experts briefed the prime minister

KARACHI/KABUL:  Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement offering citizenship to Pakistan-born Afghan and Bengali refugees has brought deep gratitude from the marginalized communities but scathing remarks from the nationalist parties that fear a significant demographic change.

Addressing a fundraiser for hydropower dams at the Sindh Governor House in Karachi, PM Khan said: “An underclass is increasing which is responsible for the hike in street crimes. 

“More than 0.25 million Bengalis and a large number of Afghans are living here, but since they have been denied national identity cards of Pakistan, despite having been born here, they are unable to find jobs or work on meager wages,” Khan explained, adding that this is giving rise to the “underclass” which he also called the “deprived class.”

“In Europe the illegal refugees were granted citizenship through asylum. And such facilities should be extended by Pakistan to Afghan refugees, which share culture, language and customs with their Pakistani brothers,” said Afghan veteran journalist Sami Yousufzai. 

However, materialization of any such plan depends on the backing of the Pakistan’s security establishment, which had been avoiding issuance of security clearances to those who had been applying for citizenship under the country’s law, said Yousufzai. 

Hajji Abdullah, head of the Afghan Refugees in Karachi, said a jirga was under way to pay tribute to Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

“We have gathered to appreciate the landmark announcement by Imran Khan, the only prime minister who spoke for the Afghans, who takes care of Afghans,” Abdullah told Arab News.

Third-generation Afghans are living in Pakistan but no one thought about it. We are facing extreme hardship here, he said. “Whereas our brothers in Europe have got citizenship a long time ago we are still living as refugees in Sindh, Balochistan and other parts of the country.”

“Imran Khan’s statement comes a day after the foreign minister’s visit to Afghanistan was termed as highly successful,” said Iftikhar Firdous, a Peshawar-based journalist. “In the larger context it’s an overt gesture to put Pak-Afghan relations back on track. But it also shows Khan’s effort to reach out to the marginalized communities and portray him as the PM of all,” he said.


Applause from Afghanistan 

Afghan nationals have also hailed the Pakistan prime minister’s overture, largely saying that the move will make life easier for nearly two million Afghans who have lived or have been born in Pakistan after fleeing their country’s various rounds of war nearly 40 years ago.

“It actually is a very positive step. Those Afghans who want to live in Pakistan and become a Pakistani national will welcome it. Afghans acquire nationality of Europe and America ... why not Pakistan?” said Shah Mahmoud, a taxi driver in Kabul. 

Others said Pakistan will benefit more from the offer as it will “reduce the anti-Pakistan sentiment among Afghans.”

However, Daud Junbish, a senior journalist working with the BBC, warned in a tweet about the possible impact of the offer.

“The offer of Pakistani nationality to Afghans is a very serious matter and can have security, political and moral consequences,” he said.


Offer cherished by Bengalis

“Over 2.5 million Bengalis live in more than 115 Bengali majority neighborhoods of Karachi,” said Bachoo Dewan, chairman of the Pak Muslim Alliance, a Bengali political group, adding that a large number also live in Hyderabad, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and other cities of Pakistan.

“We have rendered great sacrifices during 1965 and 1971 for this country but our community still faces discrimination and a large part is being denied Pakistani nationality,” he said, adding: “We are thankful to PM Imran Khan for speaking for our marginalized community.”

Dewan said most Bengalis are denied jobs owing to lack of computerized national identity cards and those who get one work on meager wages which are insufficient to run a household. 


Not well received by nationalists

As Afghans, Bengalis and independent analysts are hailing the landmark offer, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as well as both Sindhi and Baloch nationalist parties, said the statement is contemptible. The grant of citizenship to millions of Afghanis and Bengalis, they say, will change the demography, turning the sons of the soil into a minority.

PPP leader and provincial minister Saeed Ghani said his party was “strongly opposed to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants. They should be registered and given work permits as well but giving them citizenship will create problems.” 

The Sindhi nationalist party, Sindh United Party argued: “Instead of giving them citizenship, the government should take steps for the respectful repatriation.”

Agha Hasan Baloch, spokesman of Balochistan National Party-Mengal, which has signed a six-point agenda – including the repatriation of Afghan refugees as one of the points – with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, said the decision will be protested. 

“They (the Afghan refugees) are dangerous and have created several social problems besides changing demography of the province. It’s not justified to offer them citizenship,” Baloch told Arab News.

“We will not compromise. We appeal to Prime Minister Imran Khan to revise his decision,” he said.

However, Azhar Laghari, PTI’s head of Public Relations, told Arab News that the security and intelligence agencies had briefed the prime minister that Afghans and Bengalis are one of the elements of street crime. “He was informed that second and third generations of them live in Karachi and the constitution allows them to get citizenship, so the PM announced that they will be given nationality.”

“Not those who have migrated but their kids who have been born here should be given citizenship, and for this the reservation of nationalist parties will be removed and a policy devised by consulting all stakeholders,” he said.

“The constitution will be implemented and it provides those born in Pakistan with the right to citizenship,” Leghari said.



More than 20 injured in Rome escalator collapse

Updated 43 min 53 sec ago

More than 20 injured in Rome escalator collapse

  • Media reports said witnesses spoke of football fans, seemingly drunk, jumping and dancing on the escalator just before its collapse
  • Rome’s public transport is often criticized as running on obsolete equipment
ROME: More than 20 people, mainly Russian football fans, were injured Tuesday when an escalator in a metro station in central Rome collapsed, firefighters said.
Most of those hurt, one seriously, suffered leg injuries after getting entangled in the escalator’s mangled mechanics, Italian media added.
A video of the drama shows the descending escalator at Repubblica station suddenly and dramatically pick up speed with dozens of people on it, many screaming as they piled on top of one another at the foot of the moving stairway.
Media reports said witnesses spoke of football fans, seemingly drunk, jumping and dancing on the escalator just before its collapse, but supporters denied this ever happened.
“In any event, we are here to understand what happened and to offer our support to the wounded and their families,” Rome mayor Virginia Raggi told journalists at the scene.
Some of the victims were seen wrapped in blankets and some wore neck braces as they were taken away from the scene on stretchers by emergency crews.
Several investigations have been opened, and the metro station near Rome’s Termini train station was closed.
The horrific events took place around 1730 GMT, just over an hour before the kickoff of a Champions League match between Italy’s Roma and Russian club CSKA Moscow.
The Russian fans were headed for the metro that would have linked them to the train to the stadium.
There was heightened security in Rome for some 1,500 Russian supporters, notoriously rowdy, expected to watch the game.
One Russian supporter, the subject of a stadium ban, had already been stopped at the airport as he tried to enter.
But according to Italian media, this did not prevent an assortment of incidents around the stadium hosting the match. One Russian fan was stabbed with a knife, and two others were hurt in clashes with other supporters.
Roma won the group stage match 3-0, tweeting after the match that: “The thoughts of everyone at #ASRoma are with the supporters injured prior to tonight’s game. The club will do everything it can to provide the right support and assistance to those in need.”
Red-Blue World, a CSKA fan group, set up a collection fund for those injured, as well as fans hurt in violence near the stadium.
Rome’s public transport is often criticized as running on obsolete equipment.
In recent years, more than a dozen municipal buses have caught fire while in service, with several reports of metro passengers injured by malfunctioning hardware.
And a massive bridge collapse in Genoa in August — which killed 43 people — also raised safety questions about transport infrastructure in Italy.
Incidents on escalators have caused injuries, and even deaths, around the world.
In 2015, a woman was killed after she plunged through flooring over an escalator in a Chinese department store.
Security camera footage showed a panel in the floor giving way as the woman stepped off the escalator. As she fell half-way through she pushed her son forward, and a nearby shop assistant dragged him to safety.
And in March 2017, around 20 people were injured at a Hong Kong shopping center when an escalator suddenly changed direction, sending people hurtling toward its base.