Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that all Afghan and Bangladeshi refugees born in this country will now be granted Pakistani nationality. This is to be welcomed. Especially considering that much of the refugee population has been living here for more than three decades; in a state of legal limbo. With the fear of forced repatriation forever looming large. According to the UN, Pakistan is home to the world’s largest refugee population; sheltering some 2.7 million in total. That Afghans make up the majority has long caused tensions within the country. The military establishment has been known to link their presence to increased militancy within national borders. While certain sections of the so-called liberal elite have accused the Afghans of demonstrating insufficient gratitude to the host nation. Though it is hard to see what is expected on this front from a community that has been routinely vilified and kept effectively shackled; decade-after-decade. Around 60 percent of Afghan refugees were born here in Pakistan. Following Khan’s surprise move, it is anticipated that 1.5 million registered Afghans will now be brought fully into the mainstream. As well as the 200,000-strong Bangladeshi community, including the Rohingya, that have endured uncertain status for even longer. Global rights groups have applauded the development; with many having accused previous regimes of waging a campaign of intimidation to effectively force refugees across borders. Nevertheless, international human rights defenders are remaining cautious until details linked to the setting up of appropriate mechanisms and enforcement procedures are forthcoming. Yet not everyone is happy. Pundits here at home accuse the PTI chief of opportunism. Pointing to the fact that ethnic Pashtuns in Karachi voted overwhelmingly for Khan’s party in this summer’s general election. Thus the contention is that the citizenship drive will naturally consolidate future vote banks. And then there are concerns over how the move will impact already fraught ethnic tensions in Sindh and Balochistan. Similarly, there have been calls to let Parliament decide the matter; amid criticism of the politics of unilateralism. To be clear, however, the Prime Minister is advocating nothing radical. Except honouring existing laws. The Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951, provides nationality to all those born here; excluding the children of foreign diplomats, “enemy aliens” as well as those who migrated from territories that became Pakistan post-Partition. Thus we, here at this newspaper, support Khan as he seeks to ensure that justice is finally delivered to the most marginalised. All the while keeping in mind that integration is always to be favoured over apartheid and that treatment of minorities represents one of democracy’s most important benchmarks. Indeed, failure to do right by these communities severely weakens the moral authority to call on those, particularly in the West, to, say, treat Muslim populations, including refugees, with dignity. Many Pakistanis rightly speak out against Fortress Europe closing its borders to those fleeing NATO bullets and bombs; Britain’s forced ‘repatriation’ of the Windrush generation; or India’s moves to expel millions of Bangladeshis from the eastern state of Assam. Yet they must, too, recognise the extent of their own hypocrisy when they reject constitutional steps to realise the fundamental rights of all those living within the country’s borders. It is called being on the right side of history. However belatedly so. * Published in Daily Times, September 18th 2018.