May 26, 2019 at 9:06 am
Foreign interventions in Afghanistan, including Soviet invasion of 1979 and US invasion of 2001, brought plethora of challenges for Pakistan including Afghan refugee issue. Pakistan has hosted more than 3.5 million refugees including those 1.4 million undocumented refugees.Many of these refugees have lived their entire lives here. Their children were born and grown up in Pakistan and inter-married with Pakistanis.
Pakistan having burden of these growing refugee population along with its own population of 182.1 million is going through many other problems. According to an estimate there is 3% growth rate among Afghan refugees and almost 19.4% Afghan children are under the age of five. Even though Pakistan is not signatory to the UN convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 or 1967 protocol and her meager economy, by any stretch of imagination can never afford to shoulder the gigantic number of refugees. However, despite of all the socio-economic challenges Pakistan bravely bear the burden for decades and became the champion of hosting second largest refugee population in the world.
Before the fence was completed many Afghans used to cross the border on regular basis, not out of fear of war but also in search of work. Pakistan tried to solve this free movement of people without documents with Afghan government but Afghanistan is reluctant to cooperate in border management issue. According to UNHCR statistics, the total number peaked at 3,270,000 in 1989, more than 3% of Pakistan’s total population at the time. In fact, from 1980 to 2002 Afghan refugees in Pakistan constituted the largest single refugee population in the world.
Although overall Pakistan has been a generous host to Afghan refugees but with the passage of time scenario started changing. Pakistan was not only having the burden of Afghans but it has had to face the additional burden of about 2 millions Internally Displace Persons (IDPs) since the first half of 2009, due to the military operations against terrorists in KPK Province and FATA. This burden would be considered unbearable in many developed countries.
Citing security concerns, Pakistan started working on the repatriation process of Afghan refugees. The process has already started and it is one of the largest repatriation programs in the UNHCR’s history.Matter came under serious consideration after the deadly terrorist attack on APS Peshawar, where more than 126 school children were killed brutally and investigations revealed that those terrorists were having their roots in Afghan soil.
Apart from this many Afghan nationals have doubtful status because of their involvement in unlawful activities. Many social problems like robbery, kidnapping and drug trafficking involves these refugees who do such businesses for money. The rising number of heroin addicts in Pakistan is attributed to the issue of refugees who play a key role in drug trafficking. Looking into the past records, reports says thatin 1982 the reported number of Heroin addicts in Pakistan was estimated to be 100,000, which increased to 450,000 in 1986 and it reached to 657,842 heroin addicts in 1987. As in 2015, the figure has reached around 7 million drug addicts with a clear correlation between increase in number of drug addicts in Pakistan and increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan coupled with a rebirth of the influx of Afghan refugees. There is also increase in crimes rate, anti-government activities, which the Pakistani officials says are not solely caused by Afghan refugees, however, their arrival has deteriorated the situation (Ghufran, 2010). Afghans living in Pakistan have been blamed by some elements of the Pakistani media and political establishment for certain social problems in the country. For example, in 2014 the Peshawar administration reported that Afghan refugees are responsible for 80 % of criminal and terrorist attacks in the city.
Since the day repatriation started many Afghan nationals are reluctant to go back because of the lack of shelter and housing facilities. Afghan government is also reluctant to get them back and has requested two years more stay of the registered refugees. Due to this pressure Kabul is trying to escalate matters with Pakistan. Another reason which is creating hardship for Kabul to take the returnees immediately that is the Afghan IDPs issue. Number of Afghans who have fled violence and remained trapped in their own country where they live on the brink of survival has doubled over the past three years, according to Amnesty International report.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have a great deal of challenges to confront and few of these challenges cannot be dealt with by either country alone. Humanness and rational interest must go hand in hand. Both states have unquestionable significance for each other. Geostrategic, political, economic and other reasons make it important for both the countries to have pleasant relations. Both states need to view things clearly in order to serve their interests and refugee issue is one of them. It is clear to everyone that a peaceful Afghanistan is the surety for the peaceful Pakistan and for that purpose needs to work together.
Pakistan should take serious steps to ensure the peaceful repatriation of Afghan refugees backing it with diplomatic policies without exploiting relations with Kabul. For this reason, it should use the tool of diplomacy. Pakistan should also act in a realist way without threatening its very interests in Afghanistan. Apart from this Afghanistan should also realize that Pakistan is the country which supported it through thick and thin. Pakistan have always took initiative in making friendly relations with Afghanistan and addressing its problems. Afghanistan should take in account these facts and should welcome Pakistan’s positive gestures positively.