In the contemporary world, the influx of refugees has emerged as the most daunting challenge for all states in the global system. Even Europe and the US are facing this growing phenomenon after the Arab Spring in general and during the ongoing Syrian crisis in particular, despite the fact that they have the most rigid border controls in the world. Pakistan, too, is facing the same challenge in the shape of Afghan refugees that have been hosted by the country since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Currently, nearly one and a half million registered and, as per some estimates, as many unregistered, Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan. Now the government of Pakistan wants to send them back as their continued presence on the Pakistani soil has deep impacts on Pakistan’s internal security as well as its fragile economy. <div>
The decision to send the Afghan refugees back to their homeland is welcomed by a vast majority of people and political parties of Pakistan. Efforts to send these refugees back have been made in the recent past but the idea could not materialize due to a host of reasons. Apart from international protocol and obligations, the situation in Afghanistan has always been uncertain due to the fragile security. Due to perpetual war and instability in Afghanistan neither the refugees nor the Afghan government were ready for repatriation.
Now the scenario has changed a lot; it’s for the first time that the refugees are ready to go back to their homeland. Their government has agreed to accept them and the UNHCR has already announced a minimal package for their repatriation. They would take with them sweet memories, leaving behind the same. Any sort of transgression and ingratitude shown by the refugees will pose a bad impression about them. Irrespective of the state-to-state deteriorated relations, the people on both sides of the Durand Line enjoy brotherly relations.
Despite that some incidents of hatred toward Pakistan have been observed during refugees’ repatriation to Afghanistan. It is just the beginning of a long and complicated process involving displacement and migration of millions of people. Their sentiments should not be hurt by the hosts. In return, the Afghan refugees must honour the consummate hospitality of Pakistan. Media reports regarding misdeeds and misdemeanours of Afghan refugees are very disappointing for the Pakistanis who had hosted them for nearly four decades with big hearts.
Some other incidents of hatred and aggression against the Pakistanis at the hands of Afghan refugees have also been observed frequently. It is not a good omen for the future of Pak-Afghan ties. The question is why the refugees, after spending so many years on Pakistani soil, seem to be aggrieved? Why there is no word of thanks for Pakistan and its people who have made great sacrifices for the Afghans? The answer is simple: Pakistan failed to properly handle the refugees’ issue from day one. Instead of keeping them in refugee camps, they were allowed to mix with the local populace. Their presence was exploited for political objectives and no concrete steps were taken to encourage their return. Unfortunately, these refugees obtained National Identity Cards and became Pakistanis on the basis of false documents. Being mostly Pakhtuns, the basis of the demographic status of the two provinces of Pakistan, KP and Balochistan, as well as that of Karachi, has significantly changed.
The Afghan refugees have brought with them a number of miseries to Pakistan. They were warmly received by Pakistanis who provided them with shelter, food and clothing and they also started their businesses and other activities inside Pakistan. The fragile economy of the country suffered immensely. As a centuries-old Afghan legacy, they brought with them the menace of terrorism. Later, terrorism turned into its most violent form, suicide bombings, which caused the loss of precious human lives and infrastructure. Once they had nothing when they migrated to Pakistan; today they have everything in Pakistan like jobs, business, residential apartments and good living conditions. Security threats and repeated incidents of terrorism inside its territory have forced Pakistan to make serious efforts to repatriate the Afghan refugees.
The involvement of NDS and RAW (intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and India, respectively) in Balochistan and other cities of Pakistan is also a major factor behind their repatriation. Pakistan’s security forces and LEAs apprehended a number of terrorists in the garb of refugees. Moreover, it is also in accordance with the spirit of the National Action Plan that is the manifestation of Pakistan’s resolve to purge its soil of the terrorists. A number of leading Taliban are involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan with foreign support and it is absolutely unbearable for Pakistan and its civil and military leadership. Pakistan has to say goodbye to the refugees to avoid any further involvement of terrorists ergo improving security situation in Pakistan. Besides, it is unfortunate that the very tribal and itinerant nature of the refugees created a number of social problems for the local population. In some incidents, they have turned barbaric and savage. Their merciless attitude is undoubtedly the result of all the mess they have been witnessing in Afghanistan.
It is indeed a great opportunity for Pakistan to settle the issue of Afghan refugees. What’s needed by Pakistan is to involve its foreign office and diplomatic missions around the world to help facilitate the repatriation process. Unless these refugees are repatriated to Afghanistan, Pakistan can never be in a position to stop cross-border infiltration of Taliban and other terrorist groups. In this context, it is the issue of Pakistan’s security and its very existence. Pakistan has been severely hurt by terrorist attacks and it has resolved to slay the monster of terrorism. For the same purpose, Pakistan is eager to send the refugees back and the process has already begun.
However, Pakistan must not spoil its great sacrifices at this stage. Such an environment should be created that refugees while leaving Pakistan, wave their hands as friends, not nodding as foes. It will be huge boost for Pakistan if the refugees are repatriated peacefully; any mischief from any quarter will spoil the whole process. The success of repatriation depends upon the avoidance of human tragedies.
Let’s support humanity at this crucial hour of repatriation. The global security doctrine demands the rationalization and registration of every individual. Pakistan cannot come out clean of the charge of supporting the terrorists or Taliban unless it gets rid of the burden of Afghan refugees, mainly having no record of registration as refugees. Pakistan has nothing to win in Kabul, a lot to lose. The most precious of all is the sentiments of the people; we as a nation have to present and safeguard the friendly and brotherly image of Pakistan and we can strive for averting any human tragedy related with migration. At the same time, it’s a good opportunity for Afghan refugees to be able to say ‘home sweet home’.