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Pressure to house Afghan refugees

Addressing an international conference on terrorism, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal alleged that Pakistan is being pressured to house Afghan refugees for a longer period. He lamented over, what he implied, the apathy shown by the international communing towards sharing the financial burden of 3.5 million refugees present in Pakistan. He said that international community needs to work with Pakistan to address the issues pertaining to terrorism and presence of Afghan refugees in the country. He said they should understand that what Pakistan is facing today is also largely due their failure to discharge their obligations in this region.

The Minister claimed that Pakistan lifted the burden of providing relief assistance and shelter to 3.5 million Afghan refugees without the support of international community. He alleged that after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan the war ravaged country was abandoned by the free world and left it at the mercy of terrorist outfits.

The speech of the Interior Minister raises a mixed bogy of hypothetical and real questions to which the Pak-Afghan history of the past 38 years provides answers. It was the decision of President Zia government alone to involve Pakistan in the Afghan war when the troops of former Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in December 1979. It is also a matter of record that in the decade of 1980s the international community doled out generous financial and material assistance to help Pakistan in establishing 258 refugee camps and provide relief and succor to millions of Afghan Refugees. International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), Freedom Medicine and a number of international NGOs established hospitals for the wounded people of Afghan War. UNHCR carried out multifaceted relief activities for the weal and welfare of Afghan refugees.

It is true that international community did not show much enthusiasm after the signing of Geneva Accord to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan by ending the fratricidal war that ensued between Afghan resistance groups that put up stiff resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. However, they did support the United Nations (UN) efforts for the peace process in Afghanistan. UN representative on Afghanistan Benon Sevan made hectic efforts from 1989 to 1992 to bring rapprochement between the sitting government in Kabul and Afghan Mujahidin leaders present in Pakistan but the leadership of the two mainstream parties in Pakistan in their tenures of government did not show sagacity to capitalize on UN efforts for a negotiated settlement for transfer of power in Afghanistan.

There is no open indication that Pakistan is being pressured to extend indefinitely the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan though the Afghan youth is reluctant to return to Afghanistan because they have been borne in Pakistan and got education here. However, the law of war refugees does apply to them and have to be repatriated. Afghan ambassador Umer Zakhelwal had categorically told a delegation of Afghan refugee elders that Afghan nationals should be mentally prepared for return journey to their homeland. A senior official of the Ministry of SAFRON said in December that Afghan refugee repatriation plan is on the anvil but the matter went to the backburner. How can the international community commit financial assistance if repatriation plan is not in place? The leadership of an allied political party PML-N, PkMAP is opposed to the sending Afghan refugees back to the country of their origin but even though from 1st March about five to six families are going back from Baluchistan with the assistance of UNHCR. Likewise, 10-12 Afghan families daily come to the UNHCR center in Peshawar seeking assistance for home journey although there is no peace and stability in Afghanistan.

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