ISLAMABAD - Just only a month after becoming part of a coalition government at the centre, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) has threatened to quit the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led ruling coalition if Prime Minister Imran Khan continued with plan of giving citizenship status to Pakistan-born Afghan refugees.

As the release of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz from jail spells troubles for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government, the PTI-led coalition is also in hot waters because of a premature statement of the premier that was given without taking on board the coalition partners.

The BNP-M is the third largest party in eight-party ruling coalition at the centre and has threatened to withdraw its support for the government in case it did not reverse its plan to grant Pakistani nationality to Afghan refugees. The BNP-M being a Baloch nationalist party like other Baloch nationalist parties of Balochistan views that the decision would change the population demographics of the province where a large number of Afghan refugees are living for decades. Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), the Pashtun nationalist party of Balochistan, has welcomed the decision as this would increase its vote bank.

“If PTI went ahead with its plan of giving citizenship to Afghan refugees, it would become difficult for BNP-M to sit in the coalition government,” BNP-M Secretary General Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini told The Nation after his senior party leadership met with PTI leaders at Parliament Lodges on Wednesday.

PTI leadership had visited the place to vow BNP leadership on the issue that has arisen after Prime Minister Imran Khan last Sunday gave statement during his maiden visit to Karachi. He said that the PTI government would give citizenship rights to Pakistan-born Afghan refugees and Bangalis living in Pakistan for decades. PM said that hundreds of thousands of unregistered Bengalis and Afghan refugees were living in the metropolis but they could not get ID cards and passports. That is why they are denied jobs and it is their fundamental right to get citizenship, Imran Khan added. 

The statement of PM drew criticism not only from the opposition parties including PPP but also from one of the coalition partners of federal government.

BNP-M thinks that PM’s statement was in violation of six-point agreement jointly signed by PTI and BNP before forging an alliance after July 25 general elections. One of the six points of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both sides calls for ‘honourable repatriation of all Afghan refugees to their country, Afghanistan’.  Senator Jamaldini said that PTI government would have to implement all six points of MoU. He said that BNP-M had conveyed its reservations to PTI delegation that visited BNP leadership.

PTI delegation was included Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Jehangir Khan Tareen. BNP side was represented by its chief MNA Sardar Akhtar Mengal, MNA Agha Hassan Baloch, Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini, and former senator Mir Lashkari Raisani.

Senator Jamaldini said that his party chief has sought explanation from the PTI over the Afghan refugees’ issue. PTI will have to clarify the situation as safe repatriation of Afghan refugees to their home country was one of the six points agreement signed by BNP and PTI, he said. He said that a committee had been proposed to implement all six points and now the ball was in the court of PTI.

During Tuesday’s session of the National Assembly, the BNP chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal on the floor of the house sought a clarification from PM for his remarks over refugees saying these were against the agreement.

In response, prime minister said that the government has made no decision so far and all stakeholders including political parties will be consulted before taking final decision. However, he again supported the idea of granting citizenship to refugees saying it is purely a human rights issue. He said that every child who is born in a country has the right to citizenship.

On this, BNP chief Akhtar Mengal tried to take the floor to respond PM’s remarks, but speaker National Assembly did not allow him. This led BNP that has four seats in NA to stage a protest walk out from the house along with opposition party-MMA. BNP is the only major coalition  partner of PTI that had refused to become part of federal cabinet as its only demand was that PTI government should implement at earliest all of its six points. PTI has adjusted all its other coalition partners in the cabinet.