Legislation is Required for Regulating Businesses of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Ali Muhammad Khan

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Legal Research Institute of Pakistan (LRIP) in collaboration with Mardan Chamber of Commerce & Industry organized a One-Day conference titled” Regularization of Afghan Refugees in Business, trade and commerce in Pakistan”. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mr. Ali Muhammad Khan was the Chief Guest of the event.

Addressing the audience Mr. Ali Muhammad Khan lauded Prime Minster Imran Khan’s efforts for regulating business in Pakistan. He said that steps need to be taken to ensure legislation with respect to Afghan refugees in collaboration with academia and think-tanks.

President Mardan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mr. Zahir Shah said that it is a dilemma that Afghan citizens are conducting their businesses in Pakistan however neither they are working in accordance with the law nor there is any legislation to regularize them. He also presented suggestionsto regulate trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Chairman Legal Research Institute of Pakistan (LRIP) Mr. Ameer Muazzam Butt said that despite having High Court judgments directing Federal and Provincial governments to regularize Afghan refugees and their businesses in Pakistan and to bring them under national exchequer, there has been no progress on it. The State of Pakistan needs to pass legislation on this very matter as it is costing Pakistan billions of dollars revenue per annum. He comprehensively explained the process through which Afghan nationals are conducting their huge businesses in Pakistan without paying a single rupee to the state of Pakistan.

Barrister Faizan from Mardan Chapter of Muazzam Law Firm stated that amendments in the immigration laws and policies is the need of time which will entitle Afghan refugees to have the right to sell and purchase properties and conduct their businesses in accordance with the existing rules and regulations, which will ultimately eradicate the sense of discrimination between Pakistani and foreign businessmen. He recommended that Afghan refugees should be recognized and there should be policy changes with respect to Afghan refugees as they are conducting an extensive economic activity in Pakistan. FBR should register the businesses of Afghan refugees and give them special incentive packages, so as to attract them within the legal framework of Pakistan. Regularizing Afghan refugees and bringing them within the legal and economic framework will further the economic activity within the region and will send a message of peace and harmony across the eastern and western border which will ultimately ensure the possibilities of economic activities with the Central Asian states.

Assistant Professor National Defense University, Dr. Rashid Ahmed also spoke on the occasion. He elaborated on the historical and contemporary dynamics of Pak-Afghan ties. He highlighted that bilateral trade between the two states has been significantly reduced from $2 Billion to $900 million which is a concerning development for a state that has remained the second highest trading partner of Afghanistan. He highlighted that the capacity of Pakistani businessman and labour has been seriously affected due to the Afghan citizen working parallel to him as a Pakistani is unable to compete him due to various taxes imposed on him. He emphasized on Pakistan’s policy makers to pass necessary legislation for refugees in order to provide economic security to the citizen of Pakistan.

One of the leading Refugees expert in Pakistan, Dr. Nasreen Ghufran from University of Peshawar also spoke on the occasion. Addressing the event, she said that Afghan citizens based in Pakistan since 1979 have expanded their businesses and created their own markets which has seriously affected the capacity of Pakistani business community to compete against them.Gemstones trading is primarily run by Afghan traders based in the city of Peshawar, and constitutes a considerable part of Pakistan’s export activity, generating US$27.5 million over the last five years.Refugees consume more and contribute less to the economy. The host communities have to share their limited infrastructure and resources with refugee population.  In 2010, the UNHCR reported that refugees contributedto accelerated wear and tear of roads and canals and a significant increase in the consumption of fuel and fodder resources.Refugees have the potential to play an important role in the development of their host communities and should not be treated as passive recipients of humanitarian aid. Moreover, the Afghan refugees operating business in Pakistan face problems in transferring money through banking channels which is similar to transferring remittances in Pakistan for which they have to rely on informal channels or depend on Pakistani people for making transactions.Furthermore, the issue of smart cards for Afghan refugees must be reconsidered, as Afghan citizens live in Pakistan with the insight that Pakistan will extend the timeframe for smart cards on a constant schedule.Repatriation policy has not been affective for Afghan refugees as the Afghan youth refuses to settle in Afghanistan due to the lack of facilities, economic opportunities and evolving security situation.She also highlighted that the Government of Pakistan has not enacted anynational legislation concerning the protection of refugees nor any refugee law but Pakistanhas generally respected international principles relating to refugee protection.With resettlement only an option for very few refugees and repatriation elusive due to protracted crises, a subtle and managed integration is the way out for Pakistan. The government has the required data, which is important to trace their activities. The existing PoR cards are beingbe replaced by the smart cards.However, integration is not high on the government agenda. It is still pursuing the policy of voluntary repatriation. Furthermore, financial inclusion in the formal economy is necessary, and mechanisms should be devised to enable the refugees to utilize the services provided for running businesses.Improved facilities at the border check points will accelerate trade between the two countries.Managed integration will certainly put an end to the illegal activities that are being practiced and will positively contribute to the economy. Moreover, this will also provide relief to Pakistanis who have developed partnerships with them and are trading with Afghanistan through them. They have made investments through Pakistanis, which will certainly benefit both if a coherent policy is adopted.

Ms. Noorulain, one of the experts on Afghan refugees in Pakistan, stated that while Pakistan is a non-signatory to the 1951 and 1967 Refugee Conventions, it has hosted over 3 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan entrusted UNHCR with the administering of Afghan refugees since 1979. The UNHCR and the Government of Pakistan have signed more than eight different agreements on refugee issues, but there has been no parliamentary debate or legislation on the subject, raising serious concerns about the state’s jurisdiction. She highlighted that around 1.4 million POR card holders while roughly around 0.5 million unregistered Afghan refugees still reside in Pakistan. These refugees are carrying out their economic activities across all the cities of Pakistan yet any institution of Government of Pakistan has no business record of them. They are enjoying all the privileges of a state citizen, yet exempted from the tax net. Over $200 Billion of Pakistani tax payer’s money has been spent on these Afghan refugees since last four decades, yet there is no public disclosure of how, when and where this money has been particularly spent. Any sovereign state has the right to take into account any economic activity that occurs within its territorial boundaries since it is critical for multi-faceted issues of national security, particularly given the dynamics of this region. Bilateral and transit trade should be expanded, while issues of conflict should be resolved amicably through dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Government of Pakistan in collaboration with the international institutions must initiate a proper mechanism to bring these refugees under the pretext of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). International refugee conventions and migrant rights law give a basis to host states to inspire legislation from. Especially states that struggle with inhouse legal capacity, experience in legislation on refugees and migrants can adopt legal principles from these international conventions since they form a baseline framework of laws to begin legislation around. However, depending on the socio-political and economic concerns of Pakistan it must decide for its own what transit control, migrant labor and refugee worker rights and levels of integration is the State of Pakistan ready for.

Mr. Ali Muhammad Khan ensured the Chairman LRIP and participants of the event that he will take all the necessary actions to move the issue in the parliament for debate and will make his utmost efforts to ensure legislation on an important matter of national importance. The conference was attended by policy makers, academia, business community, representatives of international organizations and delegation of Youth Parliament Mardan.


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