Pakistani prime minister to grant citizenship to 1.5 million Afghan refugees

Pakistani prime minister to grant citizenship to 1.5 million Afghan refugees
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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a surprise announcement that he would grant citizenship to roughly 1.5 million Afghan refugees.

Khan made the pledge during a public event in Karachi on Sunday, The Guardian reported.

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“Afghans whose children have been raised and born in Pakistan will be granted citizenship inshallah [God willing] because this is the established practice in countries around the world,” Khan said. “They are humans. How come we have deprived them and have not arranged for offering them national identification card and passport for 30 years, 40 years?”

Pakistan has hosted refugees fleeing Afghanistan since the Soviet Union invaded in 1979, the outlet noted.

The country has the largest refugee population in the world, including roughly 2.7 million who came from Afghanistan, according to the United Nations. About 1.5 million would be affected by the announcement.

Pakistan law is supposed to guarantee citizenship to anyone born in the country, but a series of obstacles have prevented the law from being applied to the children of Afghan refugees — including an exception for children from countries that are "enemy" or "alien" nations. 

Afghan refugees in the past have been blamed for terrorism in Pakistan, so the decision to grant a large segment of the population citizenship is a significant shift for the government. 

Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was elected prime minister in August and was sworn in later that month. 

Some analysts suggested a political motive for Khan's move, with one observer noting the large number of Pashtuns who voted for Khan's party. Afghan refugees belong to the Pashtun ethnicity.