Afghan refugee’s repatriation

Khawaja Wajih u Din

Afghanistan is our brotherly country. We are hosting our brothers and sisters from Afghanistan for more than 40 years now. It is a historical fact that many people in and around the boundary between the countries share family bonds and they have common ancestors.

Many people living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa feel pride in calling themselves as Afghans by caste. We with great satisfaction recall the Anglo Afghan wars and the deadly fate of the imperialist army at the hands of local Pathans. The colonial army in its usual tactics of divide and rule tried its best to overcome the locals.

In the 19th century Britain twice invaded Afghanistan (the first and second Anglo-Afghan Wars; 1839-40 and 1878-80). The British were unable to fully subdue the country, and the third Anglo-Afghan War (1919) led to its full independence. The British forces were almost completely wiped out during 1842. It was a nightmare for the imperialist forces who wanted to play a kingmaker in Afghanistan.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a crisis for the very honorable citizens of Afghanistan. It was followed by another invasion by the allied forces led by the United States of America. They caused unimaginable devastation and destruction.The Civil War’s compounded the difficulties. The ordinary people on both sides of Pak-Afghan border were firstly exploited in the name of jihad and later in the name of democracy and freedom. It is ironic that initially the afghans were treated as freedom fighters and mujahedin’s. They were invited in the White House and were praised for the role.

However due to change in policies they became persona non grata for most of the world. It is a historical fact that none of the foreign countries has ever been able to subjugate the Afghans and defeat their Valor. Former USSR tried and failed. The Americans tried along with their allies and miserably failed. Ultimately all the invaders had to leave in shame.

Common man in any crisis suffers the most.The crisis in the brotherly country lead to severe problems for the ordinary people living on both sides of the border. Unfortunately millions had to migrate to various countries. Those who could afford went to the western countries. However the neighborly countries including Pakistan also had a chance to fulfill its religious obligations of hosting our brothers and sisters.

The world has little idea of the enormous sacrifices that people of Pakistan in general and Kpk in particular made due to the influx of refugees from Afghanistan. They cannot be counted in terms of money. Its impact on financial capacity, economics, social and cultural approaches could not be documented.

Simultaneously it is also a fact that some people in Pakistan enjoyed the dollars which came pouring in from the international community for the afghan refugees.
Being a refugee is a worst thing that can happen to you in life. It forces you to do things and adopt a way of life which in normal circumstances you would not. Majority of the people have to start life from a scratch and in most of the cases it becomes impossible to make the both ends meet.

However the fact remains that due to Soviet invasion Pakistan suffered tremendously on all fronts.The culture of Klashnekoff, heroin bomb blasts, suicide bombing and terrorism became known to the locals. Some people also think that amalgamation of the refugees with the locals resulted in degradation of the local social set up, moral and cultural values and stopped mental and social advancement of the locals. They argue that this major tactical blunder resulted in enormous difficulties for the country.

Pakistan and Iran host one of the largest refugee populations in the world, the majority of whom come from Afghanistan. In Iran around 780,000 are registered Afghan refugees and another 2.6 million who are either undocumented or have received a headcount. Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented. As of October 2023, the United Nations estimates that nearly 3.7 million Afghans reside in Pakistan, while Pakistani authorities believe the number to be as high as 4.4 million. As per the UNHCR report 1333749 are registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan while 4388058 Afghan refugees were facilitated for voluntary repatriation between 2002 to 2022.

In Pakistan thanks to the Government’s progressive and inclusive policies, refugees have been given access to education, health, and livelihoods opportunities and facilities- helping them thrive, not just survive. They run all types of businesses including transport, property, money exchange etc. It is said that through “benami” transactions they purchased a lot of property in the Posh colonies in KKP. It is estimated that majority of the refugees live in cities, towns and villages side by side with the host community.some enjoying a very lavish lifestyle.

In 1979 the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a Godsend opportunity for the military dictator of Pakistan at that time. The world before the invasion, were isolating the chief martial law administrator at that time. However after the Soviet invasion he suddenly became a personality most liked by the west. The reason in the background was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and therefore, he was termed as a freedom fighter fighting the Soviet advance to warm waters.

Pakistan’s involvement and fiddling with the neighbors affairs and taking sides, without any planning or foresight were at the expense of the national interest. Perhaps to some people the foreign aid was more important than the interest of the country. Everyone who was someone chipped in and became billionaires in a short span of time.

I can recall the time of 70s with clarity and have been an eyewitness to some Occurrences of terror including bomb blasts in the then NWFP. The government and press at that time held The National Directorate of Security, also referred to as Amniyat or Amaniyat (Afghan Secret Service) accountable.

Unfortunately the situation was exploited by India and as a result we had to endure deteriorating law and order situation in our country including bomb blasts, suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks which we had never seen before. Horrifying scenes were witnessed when human beings were blown to pieces in shape of mince meat. One horrific scene I remember in a bus terminal in Peshawar which looked like a Butcher’s shop. The law enforcement agencies persistently send reports that the deteriorating law and order situation can only be controlled by minimizing the influx of the refugees. But the political leader ship was too scared to act.

I remember when as a school college student while traveling in public transport run by afghan refugees there was a fight between a local and another afghan refugee. After exchange of hot words it ended when the locals were told that the authorities would side with the Afghan refugees and not with them. I have been narrated various instances of such type repeatedly. Ultimately it became an issue of identity crisis for the citizens of the country.

History tells us that Afghanistan was the only state to oppose Pakistan’s membership in the UN in 1947 when a vote on rejoining Afghanistan was disallowed in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). In 1949, a Loya Jirga revoked all agreements with Britain, including those relating to the Durand Line. Afghan territorial claims over Pashtun-majority areas that are in Pakistan were coupled with discontent over the permanency of the Durand Line, for which Afghanistan demanded a renegotiation, with the aim of having it shifted eastward to the Indus River. Pakistan immediately rejected it.

An organized campaign was launched by the enemies of the state and afghan governments, in Pakistan towards achieving that goal. History also tells us that a special ministry was established by the Afghan government to promote the slogan of Pakhtoonistan. Despite all the efforts the slogan of Paktoonistan died its natural death in due course of time. But in early 70s People of the then NWFP had to endure almost daily bomb blasts and killing of Hayat Mohammed Khan Sherpao aged 38,in one of the blasts is one of my horrific childhood memories. Series of occasional armed skirmishes and firefights have occurred along the Pak-Afghanistan between the armed forces of the two countries since 1949.

Some people say that the recent surge in terrorism is due to the government’s decision of repatriation. According to a report of Brown University’s Watson School of International Public Affairs, 23,372 Pakistani civilians and 8,832 Pakistani security personnel were killed in the war on terrorism. Pakistan recorded the second largest increase in terrorism-related deaths worldwide in 2022, with the toll rising significantly to 643, a 120% rise from the 292 deaths the previous year, as per the report of VOA. In 2018, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that the Pakistani economy suffered a total loss of $126.79 billion since 2001 due to the War on Terror.

The treatment that the Pakistanis have repeatedly got in cricket matches in England between the two countries and subsequently in Dubai and now in India,at the hands of afghan crowds really disappointed and discouraged most of the Pakistani’s, with the uncalled for behavior of some. The social, Print and electronic media have been highlighting aggressive stance taken by various afghan officials of the Afghan government towards Pakistan.

I remember when as a school college student while traveling in public transport run by afghan refugees there was a fight between a local and another afghan refugee. After exchange of hot words it ended when the locals were told that the authorities would side with the Afghan refugees and not with them. I have been narrated various instances of such type repeatedly. Ultimately it became an issue of identity crisis for the citizens of the Pakistan.

Pakistan officials blame India and Afghanistan for supporting terrorism in Pakistan. However, Afghanistan admitted to providing support for terrorist groups such as (TTP) (reference Report of Wikipedia) As of 2022, most terrorist activities in Pakistan have been concentrated in provinces of KPK and Baluchistan.KP accounting for 64 percent of the reported casualties (633 fatalities in 2022), followed by 26 percent in Balochistan, 5.8 percent in Sindh and 2.8 percent in Punjab.

From the point of view of the other side Pakistan’s baggage emanates from support to Mujahideen to the Taliban it sits at the heart of the anti-Pakistan sentiment of some interested parties. Different parties while in power in the neighboring country have different points of views and naturally different blames. Without going into the blame game the national interest is always supreme. Pakistan had to take a tough decision keeping in mind it’s on ground realities. The brave decision of repatriation was required in the national interest.

The propaganda that ‘people of Afghanistan do-not Pakistan’ is not at all true. This false propaganda serves the interests of the rich and powerful in Afghanistan and the vested interest. The poor majority in Afghanistan that hates the war is being kept illiterate over the years for an unwanted and unpopular conflict from its beginning. Scapegoating Pakistan is best for them because it hides their miscalculation as well as their greed.

It is a fact that poor Afghans have been exploited throughout by their leaders and our neighbor India. The influence of India in Afghanistan was present even in early 70s. Even at that time there were Indian movies in the cinemas and scores of people including almost all the tourists watched them. The nexus did not give anything to the ordinary people Afghanistan.

As a child when I visited Afghanistan in summer vacations I remember all the big businesses were occupied by the Hindus or Sikhs and average Afghans had only menial jobs to do. I remember Afghan children looking at all the tourists with the desirous and envious eyes. But they never begged or stole anything. They always had a sense of pride and strength of character.
Having interacted with the Afghan refugees over a long period of time I can say that they are very proud of their heritage and sincerely longed to return back to their country.

Most of the children that I interacted with loved Pakistan as their home because they were born here and had a very strong sense of belonging to their birthplace. There would be very few people who permanently wanted to live in Pakistan. Afghans in Pakistan have always believed in the dignity of labor. They were ever ready to do any hard work which provided a tough competition to the locals.

Whatever the relations between the governments of the two countries the people to people contact between the two neighborly countries would always be very strong. It’s very encouraging from a human point of you to see that government officials, police and ordinary people are trying their level best to help the refugees in any form they can and giving them a good sendoff.

(The writer is former Registrar Peshawar High Court)