As the deadline for foreign nationals to leave the country expires, Pakistan will start rounding up and expelling the foreign nationals, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans, from Thursday.
Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti on Tuesday announced that the provincial and federal authorities would begin a major crackdown on unregistered migrants in phases starting from Nov 2.
The government will decide the border for deportation of migrants.
The country announced its plan to repatriate the illegal migrants earlier this month, saying the Afghan nationals had been behind attacks, smuggling, and other crimes in its territory – a stance dismissed by Kabul.
“Only two days are left for a voluntary return,” Sarfraz Bugti said in a video statement released on Tuesday.
The operation would be “lengthy and gradual”, he added. “We are not deporting any refugees. Only those who are completely illegal will leave Pakistan.”
In an interview with a private news channel, Bugti said that authorities would strictly begin tracking and arresting foreigners staying in the country without registration or documents from Nov 2.
He said those who were leaving voluntarily would be assisted by the government at temporary centres.
“We will try to provide them food and health facilities for two to three days,” he added. “All basic facilities will be provided at these centres to illegal foreign nationals.”
He stated that all provincial governments would play an active part in the operation against illegal foreigners, adding that the committees had been formed at divisional and district levels.
Separately, the caretaker interior minister directed officials and agencies to behave respectfully with undocumented immigrants while detaining them in holding centres after the deadline.
Talking to media persons, he said strict action would be taken against officials who were found involved in manhandling of the immigrants, including Afghans, while transporting them to the holding centres.
He said the ministry had established a complaint cell with a hotline number to immediately address the complaints of mistreatment or manhandling with any illegal immigrant.
“We have given clear instructions to all agencies and officials to treat women, children, and elders with special care and respect,” the minister said, adding that the arrangements for food and medical facilities were made in the holding centres.
Bugti also warned of strict action against locals helping the immigrants and providing them shelter.
“Any Pakistani who will rent his house to illegal immigrant will be considered as a partner in crime and treated equally according to the law,” he added.
He said that respect for women and elders was being considered during the evacuation, adding that children were being treated with compassion, and around 200,000 illegal people had gone back during the last two months.
HRCP raises concerns
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed concern over the government’s decision to expel undocumented foreigners, urging the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to ensure protection for Afghan refugees.
In a letter addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani said the move to expel Afghans could “trigger a humanitarian crisis”.
“The decision amounts to forced repatriation, which is not recognised under international customary law, and will invariably affect vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, which include women, children, the elderly, persons living with disabilities, persons from low-income groups and Afghans at risk because of their professions — many of whom fled Afghanistan after the Afghan Taliban took over the government in August 2021,” the letter stated.
It noted that despite criticism from the human rights organisations, the government had not shown any signs of reconsidering its decision and had gone so far as to prevent civil society members from expressing their views on the matter.
It highlighted that the interim interior minister had announced that the current phase of expulsion would be followed by the deportation of foreign nationals with legitimate documents, including Afghans, who held proof-of-residence cards.
The HRCP, the letter went on to say, had also received reports of harassment, intimidation, extortion and arrests of Afghans while media reports suggested that 77 Afghan refugees with legitimate documents had already been deported.
“While the HRCP recognises that the government may have legitimate security concerns tied to a small number of foreign nationals residing in the country illegally, we believe that humanitarian concerns must override security interests,” it said, adding that such a decision did not fall within the mandate of an unelected government.
“We also believe that refugees and asylum seekers should be allowed to thrive along with their hosts and that the rights of both are not mutually exclusive.”
The commission regretted that Pakistan was not a signatory of the 1951 Refugees Conventions, lacked a national asylum system, and addressed issues pertaining to Afghan refugees through “ad hoc and discretionary policies”.
It highlighted that Pakistan was bound by universal customary laws of non-refoulment which prohibited deporting anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture, ill-treatment or life threats.
“The HRCP believes that the Pakistan government’s actions in this context amount to violations of international customary law, given that the prevailing circumstances in Afghanistan are not at all conducive to the safe return and reintegration of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers,” the letter said.
It subsequently urged the UNHCR to call on the government to extend the Nov 1 deadline, ensure that no migrants or refugees with legitimate documentation were expelled, ensure refugees were treated with dignity and facilitate their access to documentation.
The letter also suggested that the government should devise a “rights-based domestic policy” on refugees, revisit the “flawed” Foreigners Act of 1946 and sign the 1951 Refugees Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Meanwhile, the National Commission on the Status of Women, in a letter written to Interior Minister Bugti, said there were approximately 2.5 million widows in Afghanistan, some of whom came to Pakistan in search of livelihood.
“These women are journalists, doctors, software engineers, and others who are undocumented due to various circumstances beyond their control,” it stated.
SHC’s stay on executive committee orders irks PBC
Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Haroonur Rasheed has taken strong exception over the Sindh High Court to grant stay on its executive committee orders, demanding of the chief justice of Pakistan to look into the matter and take appropriate action in this regard.
In a statement issued on Monday, the PBC vice chairman said, “It is often observed that Orders of Executive Committee of the Pakistan Bar Council which are assailed by the aggrieved person(s) before the Hon’ble High Court of Sindh through civil suit are being taken up by the High Court of Sindh in the Court or in Chamber and injunctive Order has been passed which are not entertainable in the eye of law due to lack of jurisdiction.”
Rasheed said, “The High Court of Sindh has no jurisdiction to set aside any Order assailed which is passed by the Pakistan Bar Council or its Executive Committee at Islamabad the proper forum for that is Courts of ICT, so any order passed by the High Court of Sindh that would be non-existing and nullity in the eye of law as one rather sitting in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab or Balochistan cannot set over the territorial jurisdiction and the High Court of Sindh should not pass injunctive Orders on the matters decided by the Pakistan Bar Council at Islamabad just to please their blue eyed person(s), which amount to undue interference in smooth functioning of a statutory body having its office in Islamabad.”
The statement added, “The tendency of such like issues creates serious doubts upon credibility of those decisions which have been passed without jurisdiction.”
Rasheed said that no high court of any province had jurisdiction, especially the SHC, to create hindrance in affairs of the regulatory body of lawyers who had the mandate under Section 13(2) of the Legal Practitioners & Bar Councils Act, 1973, to decide matters of Provincial/Islamabad Bar Councils and all bar associations of the country, which were challenged before it.
Pakistan, UAE ink MoUs for mega investments
Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) inked several Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs), paving the way for multi-billion dollar investments in diverse initiatives outlined by the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC).
The signing ceremony took place in Abu Dhabi, witnessed by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, subsequent to a bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
The MoUs cover investment cooperation across various sectors, including energy, port operations, waste water treatment, food security, logistics, mining, aviation, and banking and financial services. The agreements aim to foster collaboration and stimulate significant investments in these key areas, a handout released by the Media Wing of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Information Ministry.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar today held a bilateral meeting with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir, NI (M) was also present at the occasion.
— Prime Minister’s Office (@PakPMO) November 27, 2023
On the occasion, Kakar termed the signing of the MoUs a historic event that “will take economic cooperation between both brotherly countries to new heights and open doors of economic prosperity and socio-economic development of Pakistan”.
Kakar also highlighted the success of the SIFC in creating a business and investment-friendly environment through one-window operation and fast-tracking the initiatives. He expressed the hope that the MoUs would turn into tangible projects very soon.
Separately, Kakar, who is on a two-day visit to the UAE, said in a video message that with the signing of the MoUs, the bilateral economic and strategic relations had entered into a new era of bilateral cooperation. On that he congratulated the people of Pakistan and the UAE.
“Foundation of friendship with Pakistan that was laid by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in the 1970s, has been taken forward by his son Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to a new era,” the prime minister said in his message.
Earlier, Prime Minister Kakar held a bilateral meeting with Sheikh Mohamed. Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir was also present during the meeting. In their talks, the two leaders reaffirmed their resolve to strengthen the bilateral strategic cooperation and dialogue.
Prime Minister Kakar expressed profound gratitude for the UAE’s firm support for Pakistan in economic and financial domain. The UAE is home to 1.8 million Pakistanis, contributing to the progress, prosperity and economic development of the two brotherly countries, he noted.
Read more: Kakar arrives in Abu Dhabi on two-day visit
During the meeting, regional and global developments in the region were also discussed with particular reference to the escalating hostilities in the occupied Palestine. The prime minister expressed concern over the human cost of the dire situation in Gaza.
Kakar reiterated Pakistan’s full support to the UAE’s Presidency of the COP-28 and underlined the importance of the global gathering on climate change as an opportunity for meaningful progress towards effective and result oriented global actions on key areas, including the Loss and Damage fund.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Kakar embarked upon a two-day bilateral visit to Kuwait. During the November 28-29, 2023 visit, the prime minster will meet Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Jaber Al Sabah, Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nawaf Al Ahmed AL Sabah.
The Foreign Office spokesperson said in a press release that the visit would include the signing of various MoUs in the fields of manpower, information technology, mineral exploration and food security, energy and defence.
IMF secured autonomy to access SBP info: Fawad
Privatisation Minister Fawad Hasan Fawad said on Monday that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) secured autonomy for Pakistan’s central bank to get direct access to the information that the federal government was reluctant to share with the global lender.
The startling statement by Fawad may further deepen suspicions about the motives behind securing the absolute autonomy for the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) in January last year by the global money lender. This also raises questions on the role of the then central bank governor, Dr Reza Baqir.
The IMF first got the autonomy for the SBP, then made the central bank governor dependent on it and was now directly getting the information, which we earlier did not want to give to the IMF, Fawad said while responding to a question about the banking sector.
The privatisation minister maintained that a question should also be raised as to why the IMF and the World Bank do not ask about reducing the spreads in lending and deposit rates of the commercial banks, which were one of the highest in the world. He said the Privatisation Commission was getting only 4% profit on its Rs6 billion deposits placed with the National Bank of Pakistan.
Before 2022, the IMF used to deal with the central bank through the Ministry of Finance. But post amendments in the SBP Act the finance ministry does not know about SBP-IMF dealings, except in cases where the SBP governor himself reveals information to the finance minister or to the ministry.
In 2022, opposition parties had strong concerns over the SBP Act amendments, saying it compromised Pakistan’s economic sovereignty and gave absolute authority to the SBP to take key economic decisions independently.
The absolute autonomy was granted in January 2022 in return for a $1 billion loan tranche. The governor has also been given complete autonomy in his affairs.
In 2021, The Express Tribune had reported that the then central bank management was pushing the finance ministry to accept the amendments in toto or the IMF tranche of $1 billion would be compromised.
The Express Tribune on Monday sent a question to Baqir, who spearheaded SBP autonomy, about Fawad’s statement. But his response could not be received till the filing of the story. Baqir left the country after his three-year tenure ended in 2022.
Fawad also spoke about the need of privatisation and the reforms in Pakistan.
The minister said that under the Privatisation Law it takes about 462 days to complete one privatisation transaction, adding that the interim government would try to privatise the entities that are difficult for a political government due to its consequences.
The interim government is trying to privatise PIA but has not yet succeeded.
Fawad said the government is expected to sign a Financial Advisory Service Agreement (FASA) with the Ernest and Young-led consortium. The cabinet approved the E&Y consortium hiring this month but the agreement signing remains pending and would be finalised this week.
After the signing of the agreement, the advisor would need at least six to nine weeks to prepare a privatisation transaction structure and another 20 to 26 weeks to complete restructuring of the PIA balance sheet.
Fawad revealed that for the past six weeks he was facing difficulties to put together a credible PIA board, as people were reluctant to serve on it for a short term period. He said there were also difficulties in arranging loans for the PIA.
The government had tasked a technical committee to prepare a PIA debt restructuring plan and also arrange Rs15 billion loans for the national carrier within two weeks. There has been no success on this front for the past over one month.
The privatisation minister revealed that people on the state-owned enterprises boards were appointed by the last coalition government based on their political affiliations.
The Privatisation Board was also appointed by the PDM government during its last days and it is widely seen as a political entity having little expertise in the complex matters, according to sources.
Fawad opposed handing over power distribution companies to the provinces, fearing it may result in the worst form of cartelisation in the power sector.
The minister also spoke “very bitterly” about the poor performance of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and set four conditions for any reforms in Pakistan, prominently stating that there should not be any further increase in the size of the government.
“Anything which increases the size of the government is not a reform,” Fawad said in a statement that apparently kills Caretaker Finance Minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar’s proposal to establish a new Tax Policy Division for separating policy from the FBR.
Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar had not approved Dr Akthar’s restructuring plan and referred the matter to another committee, including Fawad in the FBR restructuring process.
Fawad highlighted the flaws in the country’s taxation system, saying that around 93% of the collected tax revenue is either voluntary or withholding; whereas, only 7% is actually collected by the FBR.
He said in three years revenue board had sent recovery notices to individuals worth Rs600 billion but the actual recovery was less than Rs4 billion from 2013 to 2016. Since 2016, the tax burden on corporate taxpayers has increased by more than 40% on average.
Such a burden has not only contributed to encouraging people to stay out of the tax system but also de-corporatisation.
The public sector reforms should include bureaucratic reforms and taxation system reforms, he said, adding that these two areas are crucial for improving the performance of the state.
Fawad observed that the current state of the public sector was unsustainable.
In three years from 2018-2021, the government spent Rs2.54 trillion in terms of subsidies, grants, and loans to keep commercial SOEs operational. The size of the government has increased by more than three times in the last couple of decades.
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