INTERIOR Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has declared that all foreigners residing in the country would be registered and issued alien cards.
Addressing media-men in Islamabad on Thursday, he said around 40 to 50 thousands living in the country have no record for the last 70 years and every foreigner would now be registered.
This is not for the first time that an attempt would be made to identify and register illegal immigrants in the country as similar plans were announced in the past as well, especially when Ch. Nisar Ali Khan was at the helm of affairs at the Interior Ministry but no worthwhile progress was made for realization of these plans.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmad must have valid reasons to assess illegal immigrants at 40 to 50 thousand but ground realities are quite different. According to conservative estimates, there were five million illegal immigrants in Pakistan.
Around two million were Bangladeshis, 2.5 million were Afghans and the other 0.5 million were from various other countries such as Myanmar, Iraq and Africa.
Presence of such a large number of illegal immigrants poses not only socio-economic problems for the country and the local population but is also a source of instability and insecurity in the country as there are reports about linkages of such elements with foreign intelligence agencies and local criminal gangs.
The problem would remain there until and unless the government demonstrates its firm resolve not to tolerate the presence of such elements on Pakistan soil.
The Interior Minister has not elaborated on the plan for registration of illegal immigrants but one hopes a final deadline would be given for voluntary registration, followed by forcible deportation as some countries are doing in the case of Pakistanis who are smuggled abroad by organized gangs in the garb of manpower export.
As illegal immigrants cannot stay without local support, action should also be taken against all those who host them for whatever reasons.
Apart from registration of all aliens, we also hope that the Ministry and other departments and agencies concerned would exercise greater vigilance to ensure that fresh refugees do not proliferate in different parts of the country.