Islamabad: Afghanistan has promised to take adequate steps to repatriate over 1.3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan by the end of next year.
The refugees are registered with the Pakistani government and the UN.
According to informed sources, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani discussed the issue in detail with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during Ghani's maiden two-day visit to Pakistan last week, the Daily Times reported.
The Afghan president reportedly assured Sharif that the repatriation of registered Afghans in Pakistan was a priority for the new Afghan government and steps were being taken to facilitate their return by Dec 31, 2015, which is the extended deadline given by Pakistan for the repatriation.
“There has been a clear realisation among the other side that Afghan refugees are an enormous burden on the economy of the host country -- something that greatly affects Pakistan-Afghanistan ties,” an official stated.
He added that Ghani had assured Sharif that Kabul was working on a comprehensive phase-wise plan to repatriate the registered Afghans.
Repatriation of the Afghan refugees, according to the official, is an enormous task that largely depends on economic and political stability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had signed a tripartite agreement on the voluntary return of Afghan refugees that allowed their "dignified and voluntary" return and bound Islamabad not to coerce the registered Afghans into repatriation until and unless they are found involved in criminal activities.
The agreement would have expired Dec 31, 2012, after which, Pakistan would have been entitled to repatriate the refugees even against their will.
However, then Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf extended the deadline till June 30, 2013. The extended deadline was heading towards its expiry when Nawaz Sharif granted a “generous” extension to allow the refugees to stay on in Pakistan till Dec 31, 2015.