Before dwelling on the subject, it would be pertinent to identify the causes and genesis of the refugee crisis especially during the last seven decades. After the World War-II, the US approach was to involve all major regions and countries that were vital to its global strategy in military pacts such as CENTO, SEATO and NATO, and bilateral military relationships. With a view to controlling their national resources, it toppled the democratic governments of Prime Minister Mossadagh of Iran, and President Allende of Chile through military coups, whose only crime was that they had nationalized essential industries like oil and copper respectively, so as to keep control over their natural resources. The US continued with its policy imposing its version of democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other developing countries in the Middle East on one pretext or another.
The crisis of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran also owed its origin to US interference in Afghanistan, firstly in 1979 when it started a proxy war after Soviet Union’s invasion in Afghanistan. After 9/11events the US and NATO forces invaded Afghanistan. In both of the above cases, millions of Afghan nationals crossed over to Iran and Pakistan and elsewhere. International community should realize that for more than 37 years, the government and the people of Pakistan accommodated these refugees who are settled in Tribal area and throughout Pakistan. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), hundreds of thousands refugees returned to Afghanistan, and some 1.6 million Afghans are legally residing in Pakistan, having been granted proof of registration (PoR) by the UN body. Having that said, UNHCR should make arrangements to repatriate Afghan refugees by the end of 2017 to address Pakistan’s security concerns.
Last month, the federal cabinet at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved an extension in Afghan refugees’ stay till December 31, 2017. Pakistan has been continuously extending their stay since 2007;however, the government has this time round decided to strictly implement immigration laws along the border with Afghanistan. It requires registered refugees to provide their Proof of Registration (POR) cards before going to their country, and obtain visas to enter Pakistan again. A few post-terrorist attack investigations have found the involvement of Afghan refugees in housing or helping the terrorists; and refugees’ camps also have been used by the criminals as well as the terrorists. It was in this backdrop that the state decided to take measures vis-à-vis management of the borders, verification of the identity documents of refugees, their mobile phone SIM cards as well as implementation of visa regime.
These steps have caused inconvenience to the Afghan refugees, yet they cooperated with the government for the security of the host nation. Their difficulties have been highlighted by the world Human Rights Watch report 2017 stating that the Afghan refugees have been occasionally harassed and subjected to other abuses. But there is no denying that Pakistan’s own security has been adversely impacted. After 9/11 events and ensuing war, Pakistan faced spectre of terrorism and the country had over 60,000 causalities as a result of the terror-related activities. Confirmed intelligence reports have indicated the involvement of some of the refugees hosted in the camps as well as from those settled outside the camps. Pakistan has the right to take necessary measures if some criminals in the guise of refugees become a source of instability. International institutions must understand the threat to Pakistan’s economy and security.
Proper documentation and Proof of Registration (PoR) implementation together with better border management will help UNCHR as well as Government of Pakistan to better manage and regulate the Afghan refugees’ issue. However, most Afghan refugees avoid documentation due to cultural egalitarianism and consider it as their insult. Process of the repatriation, which is going on snail’s pace, has also not been very transparent and fool proof. Most refugees going back to Afghanistan have a revolving door approach to come back to Pakistan amid security and economic concerns. Growing influence of India in Afghanistan is also causing strains on Pak-Afghan relations. Pakistan has proved its sincerity as a brotherly neighboring country by hosting record number of refugees. Pakistan, however, expects of the Afghan government to take action against TTP elements and Daesh and not to blame Pakistan for all the wrongs in Afghanistan at the behest of India.
At his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 17th January 2017, US Defence Secretary James Mattis stated that 50 per cent of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban control more area than that. Afghan Government, dominated by Northern Alliance elements, does not wish to see peace in Afghanistan, because they will have to share power with the Taliban. Anyhow, the UN and its subsidiary organizations like UNHCR must come forward to take up the matter with the US, NATO and EU member countries to arrange repatriation of Afghan Refugees to their homeland. In the overview of 2015 UNHCR country operations profile Afghanistan, it was expected that the newly-formed national unity Government would create an enabling environment for sustainable return of Afghan refugees. The Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) remains the main policy framework for sustainable reintegration of those returning to Afghanistan.
Officially, the year 2015 was said to mark the end of the agreement that Pakistan had with Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) allowed Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan. Many a time, Pakistan Foreign Office has said that it would like the UNHCR and international community to help the Afghan government to create necessary environment inside Afghanistan so that these people can return. But instead of taking action, Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) had advised Pakistan to ease the uncertain and insecure lives of the millions of Afghan refugees on its territory. In the wake of Syrian crisis of the US and West’s own making, the refugees are facing hardships and many European countries are not willing to accommodate them. Yet they continue to accuse Pakistan of not looking after Afghan refugees, and are not willing to address the problems faced by Pakistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org