ISLAMABAD - The federal cabinet yesterday extended the stay of registered Afghan refugees residing in the country till March 31 next year, directing authorities concerned for the finalisation of their return plan in consultation with all stakeholders.

Terming Afghans brothers and guests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed the ministry of States and Frontiers Regions to hold broad-based consultations with the national leadership of mainstream political parties and Afghan representatives for addressing the concerns of Afghan refugees.

The cabinet, which took up heavy agenda under the chair of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, gave an extension of Proof Registration (PoR) Cards and Tripartite Agreement relating to Afghan refugees.

It also approved designation of an Investigation Agency under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act; land acquisition for Diamir-Basha Dam, Compensation Rates of Barren Land, Chilas; and agreement between Indonesia and Pakistan on cooperative activities in the field of defence.

Sources in the ruling PML-N informed that the extension in Afghans’ stay in the country has turned into a serious issue in the wake of the ongoing war on terror and the frequent movement of people across Pak-Afghan border, stretching from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to Balochistan.

Sources said that politicians like Fazlur Rehman, Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Asfandyar Wali prevailed upon the prime minister to grant the extension and not forcefully flush the Afghan refugees out of the country in unceremonious fashion, which according to them would have far-reaching implications on the already chequered relations with Afghanistan.

When the issue was taken up by the cabinet yesterday, the Premier said, “The Afghans are our brothers and very dear to us. Adequate and concrete steps will be ensured for their facilitation."

He directed the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions to hold broad-based consultations with the national leadership of mainstream political parties and Afghan representatives for addressing the concerns of Afghan refugees.

“We will not allow terrifying Afghan refugees living in Pakistan in any way. They are our guests and their return plan would be decided in a way that does not create any negative impression in the minds of people living on both sides of the border," he said.

The cabinet also approved the Ratification of the MoU between State Bank of Pakistan and Central Bank of Jordan on General Cooperation in Expertise and Knowledge Exchange in the field of Banking and Finance.

It approved signing of the protocol to amend the Saarc Limited Multilateral Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, while permission to start negotiations in principle with the Belarus for entering into MoU on Exchange of Customs Trade Data Statistics was also accorded.

The federal cabinet confirmed the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet during 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. It also confirmed the decisions taken by the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCE), and the Cabinet Committee on Privatization (CCOP), taken over a period of more than a year.

The cabinet also approved the compensation rates for land acquisition for the Diamer-Basha Dam. The prime minister directed to ensure transparency in the distribution of compensation money to the affected people.

The only item on the 19-point agenda which was not taken up was about the current status and strategy for the growth of exports.

The PM said construction of mega Hydel projects would greatly help in fulfilling the energy needs of the country along with mitigating the hazards of floods.

"Our government is determined and focused on resolving the energy issues confronted by Pakistan. Our plans include execution of short, medium and long-term projects in this regard," the prime minister said.

"Our government has arranged the finances for Dasu dam through World Bank and all required measures have been taken for the construction of Diamer-Basha Dam," he added.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan was the first country in the world to have adopted SDGs by parliament as part of national development agenda.

He said under the programme, equal opportunities would be given to all areas and people of the country mainly in health and education sectors with special focus on the less developed areas. The PM said local communities must be fully involved for effective implementation of SDGs.