EXCLUSIVE: Afghan Nationals Banned From Acquiring Property In Punjab

EXCLUSIVE: Afghan Nationals Banned From Acquiring Property In Punjab
LAHORE: The Punjab caretaker government has decided to refuse permission to any Afghan nationals wishing to acquire property in Punjab for any purpose.

The caretaker cabinet's standing committee on law and order (SCCLO) made this decision in view of the prevailing security situation and alleged involvement of Afghans in criminal activities, money laundering and foreign exchange smuggling across Pakistan, The Friday Times (TFT) has learnt.

This decision was taken some weeks ago in accordance with rules, procedure and precedent at the 8th meeting of the SCCLO which is duly constituted with caretaker cabinet members. During the meeting, it was decided that the Home Department will convey this decision to the federal government.

Briefings to SCCLO

The Additional Chief Secretary (Home) briefed the SCCLO and said that the Ministry of Interior had intimated that the Board of Investment at the National Assembly Secretariat had forwarded a proposal titled "Permission to foreign nationals, particularly Afghans, to acquire land in Pakistan to boost bilateral and transit trade with Afghanistan and attract foreign investment.” The federal authorities had requested the provincial Home Department to furnish their views and comments on the same.

The SCCLO was further apprised that as per Ministry of Interior's notification of September 9, 1984, “no foreigner shall, directly or indirectly, acquire land or any interest in land or landed property in Pakistan except with the previous permission in writing by the Federal Government or of the Provincial Government and in accordance with the conditions subject to which the permission was granted”.

Moreover, in 2020, the Government of the Punjab, via the Home Department, had already submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Interior wherein it had been suggested that foreigner(s) may only lease a property within Pakistan rather than purchase it outright.

Examples of different neighbouring countries wherein foreigners were not allowed to purchase/acquire properties in their respective countries, except for lease for accommodation for a limited time period, were also presented to the committee.

Millions of undocumented Afghans in Punjab

Moreover, the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) informed the committee that there was a significant presence of Afghan refugees who were residing illegally in Punjab.

“Approximately 10 million Afghan refugees are wandering across the country without registration documents issued by relevant authorities,” the IB Director informed the SCCLO.

The presence of these undocumented elements was a security risk for the country, according to the Director, who said that many of these refugees were found to be involved in street crimes, drug trafficking, smuggling, money laundering, and other offenses.

Furthermore, the top intelligence official maintained that giving a concession on the issue will be tantamount to legalizing the illegal Afghan aliens in Pakistan, urging that it should not be allowed in the interest of Pakistan's national security.

After the briefings, the instant matter was placed before the SCCLO for consideration and decision. Upon thorough deliberation and in view of other factors, the SCCLO of the Punjab caretaker government took the decision to prohibit Afghan nationals from buying property in the province.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy.