Refugees duress didn’t work, so what’s next?

KABUL (Agencies): Pakistan’s Interim government took an unprecedented decision to expel 1.73 million Afghan refugees from its land. This move was not only unprecedented in terms of the number of people to be expelled, but the time period given was too short.

The Interior Ministry of the Interim Government of Pakistan informed the refugees on 3rd October to leave Pakistan before November the 1st of this year. The reason disclosed behind this step was their national security, according to them these refugees were involved in illegal activities. Pakistani sources claimed that in 24 attacks, in the month of October, 14 Afghan nationals were involved. These are the claims that the Afghan government denies, and no independent sources have probed into these claims.

Why did Pakistan take this peculiar step against the refugees?

According to statistics, there are more than four million Afghans living in Pakistan. It is not possible that all four million people would be noble and honest and none of them would be involved in crimes and illegal activities. There is no corner in the world where four million people would be living and there would be no crime. Some Afghans may be involved in illegal activities or crimes. But these will be a few. How can it be justified to punish millions of people because of a few?

The forced expulsion of the refugees is related to the recent strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan wanted to use the Afghan refugees to put pressure on the Afghan government. Pakistan anticipated that evacuating a big number of refugees in such a short period of time would put the Afghan government in a difficult situation, as the current government was a new and inexperienced government.

According to their estimate, it will be economically difficult for the Afghan government to manage 1.73 million refugees in such a short period of time and it will also affect the economy of Afghanistan. On the other hand, there will be a rise in unemployment in Afghanistan, and there is also a possibility of a humanitarian crisis due to the large number of refugees with the arrival of winter. Some people may have engineered this plan to increase the unrest in Afghanistan so it will increase the internal pressure on the Afghan government, so a pivotal and path-breaking step was taken, which surprised not only the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan but people around the world as well. Due to this initiative of Pakistan, questions were raised about its reputation around the world.

Has Pakistan reached its goal?

Pakistan believed that the Afghan government would not be able to bear this pressure and would kneel down before Pakistan and would accept its demands. The stance of the Afghan government toward Pakistan’s move was completely against Pakistan’s expectations. Instead of asking for something or negotiating with Pakistan, the Afghan government focused on managing the refugees.

Although the government is not economically strong and does not have a long experience of dealing with major crises, its management of refugees turned out to be very successful. There were challenges with the management of refugees, but two factors helped the Afghan government in this regard. One is that the returning immigrants did not grow up in luxury, but they had seen many hardships, so it was not impossible for them to endure these hardships.

The second thing is that the majority of these immigrants did not have a life full of blessings and comfort in Pakistan, but they did very difficult, heavy and back-breaking work, for which they earned very little money, and now that they have ended up in today’s Afghanistan, they can stay like this.

I have spoken to several officials of the Afghan government about this, they are under pressure, but they are happy about the return of the refugees, maybe that is the reason why they are not negotiating with Pakistan. All the grievances of the authorities of the Afghan government are about the time frame and procedure of evacuation of the refugees, because on the one hand the number of refugees is high and the time is very short, and on the other hand the severe winter season is looming in Afghanistan.

An official of the Afghan government told me: “What Pakistan is doing, no one in the world has done. We even gave 14 months to the American troops to leave who invaded forcibly, but 1.73 million innocent and unarmed people are being taken out in such a short time.” The words of this official reminded me of a Pakistani writer who wrote “only Israel in the whole world did this to the Palestinians in 1948, but the number of deportees were half of the Afghans.”

The Pakistani authorities seem to be very angry because the Afghan government neither made any plea to not expel the refugees nor did they send a delegation to Pakistan for negotiations. Pakistan also faced troubles in evacuating the refugees, the decision divided the Pakistani society and many politicians and political parties opposed the decision of their government. It is used to be that people in Pakistan would go to protests and demonstrations, but since peaceful protests for other political events have been severely suppressed by the military and intelligence, people now prefer not to take the protest route. On the other hand, the Pakistani courts are also looking into this issue.

Apart from this, the government of Pakistan came under intense international pressure. The Pakistani government, which always gives importance to the pressure of foreign countries and organizations, faced the pressure in this case as well. Human rights organizations, the United Nations, some other organizations and countries have criticized this action of Pakistan and demanded Pakistan to halt this exercise.

It should be remembered that the Pakistani state tells its citizens that Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam, but the act of expelling refugees is against Islamic principles, for which Pakistan is responsible religiously and morally. This action of the Pakistani government can be interpreted as a move to grab the assets of Afghan refugees. How can a person who has been working in one place for forty years get everything done in one month? “I sold a 40-lakh shop for 8 lakhs,” one of the returnees told me. Among the returnees are many who were born in Pakistan and do not even know the official languages of Afghanistan.

Apart from this, the incidents of houses demolished by bulldozers and the beating and imprisoning of women and children have not only reached the two nations but the whole world watches these videos. Due to this, the moral value of the Pakistani government has fallen in the eyes of the people.

When the refugee pressure move does not work, what will Pakistan do next?

Pakistan’s current strategy against Afghanistan is based on coercion, compulsion and intimidation. Pakistan took measures ranging from evicting refugees to blocking transit. In the last meeting with Pakistani religious scholars, the Pakistani army chief told them that he wanted to hit some targets in Afghanistan, so they should support him. If something happens like this, the matter may come to direct confrontation. The current harsh relationship has harmed both sides, this rough relationship and conflict seem to benefit the major powers especially, while the people on both sides only suffer losses.

Both nations are Muslim, share the same religion and common values, and have helped each other in times of trouble for years, given that Afghanistan needs the warm waters for trade through Pakistan, while Pakistan needs a route to Central Asia. Afghan fruits and products need access to Pakistani markets.

Pakistanis should enjoy Kandahari pomegranates, and Afghans should enjoy Pakistani mangoes. In fact, this is the very demand of both nations. But the Pakistani authorities are applying pressure, playing the Afghan refugees card, blocking the corridors, carrying out attacks, so now the Afghan government should also be compelled to do something.

The government of Afghanistan can block Pakistan’s corridor to Central Asia, build a dam on the Kunar River, suspend cooperation for the electricity and gas pipeline projects from Central Asia to Pakistan and create many other difficulties. Indeed, both sides have opportunities to create problems for each other, but the schism will benefit the enemies of both nations only.

Apart from a few fanatics on social media in Afghanistan, there is an idea that the entire region has a common religion and values, they should move towards brotherhood and good relations, and the same is being felt by the people of Pakistan.

But a big question arises on the intention and ambitions of the ruling class in Pakistan. It is believed that Pakistan’s ruling circles want war, violence and anarchy in the region at the behest of the major powers. The ruling class in Pakistan is once again going to sacrifice the peace, development and prosperity of the entire region and its people for American interests.