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Thursday February 29, 2024

Pakistanis with Afghan spouses face uncertainty

November 18, 2023
A police official stands guard outside the Peshawar High Court (PHC). — APP/File
A police official stands guard outside the Peshawar High Court (PHC). — APP/File 

PESHAWAR: The recent government decision to deport undocumented foreigners has left numerous Pakistani citizens, who have been married to Afghan nationals for many years, grappling with uncertainty.

Over the decades, thousands of local men have married Afghan women, and a considerable number of local women have wed Afghan men. Many of these couples have built families and led content lives.

However, the government’s move has prompted over 120 such citizens to approach the Peshawar High Court, seeking Pakistani-origin cards for their spouses, with whom they have shared their lives for years. These individuals are determined not to be separated from their spouses, especially considering the children involved.

The Peshawar High Court deliberated on five cases involving Afghan nationals married to Pakistani citizens on Friday. Additionally, 120 other cases have been consolidated and scheduled for a final hearing on December 1. According to their counsel, Saifullah Muhib Kakakhel, the PHC’s division bench, comprising Justice Arshad Ali and Justice Waqar Ahmad, decided to forward the five cases to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) for the issuance of Pakistani-origin cards. The court also ordered assistance from both international and local legal perspectives, citing judgments from other countries.

The Attorney General’s office was instructed to support the court in this matter. Among the cases heard, 23 involved Pakistani women married to Afghan citizens seeking Pakistani-origin cards for their spouses. The counsel argued that NADRA’s rules allow for the grant of Pakistani-origin cards to any foreigner not holding Pakistani citizenship but married to a Pakistani. He further emphasised that international and national laws, along with judicial precedents, support the petitioners’ right to certain fundamental rights while residing in Pakistan, notably the right to a peaceful and unhindered marital life.

The counsel criticised Nadra for allegedly disregarding its own rules and labelling Afghans as “enemy aliens,” asserting that the Pakistani-origin card enables foreigners to enjoy almost all rights of a Pakistani citizen, barring voting in elections and obtaining a passport. The influx of cases intensified after the government announced the repatriation of Afghans lacking Proof of Registration cards or Afghan Citizen Cards, leading to over 215,000 Afghans returning home since September 17.

Notably, in October of the previous year, the Peshawar High Court had ruled in favour of Naseer Muhammad, an Afghan husband to a Pakistani woman named Sameena, affirming his entitlement to a Pakistani-origin card.

The court had also recently decided in favour of Zeenat Begum, a local woman married to an Afghan national who sought the court’s intervention to prevent separation from her spouse. Despite tens of thousands of families repatriating following the deadline for undocumented foreigners, many local spouses have resisted returning with their husbands. Tragically, a recent incident in Nowshera saw a woman killed by her Afghan spouse after she refused to relocate to Afghanistan.