Where do the people belong to? The land, where they are born and raised or the land their ancestors used to live in? The answer to this simple question sometimes becomes very complex especially if you are a refugee.
For decades Pakistan has remained as a haven for escaping conflict and upheaval in Afghanistan, hosting about 5 million Afghan refugees at a time. Pakistan has been generously hosting Afghan refugees since 1980. Starting from the US-sponsored, Afghan Jihad against the former Soviet Union, with an off-and-on continued policy of allowing them a warm welcome for the past 40 years. Some refugees are registered, some are unregistered while others, through irregular channels like forgery and bribery, have become formal Pakistani citizens. However, this is not possible for every impoverished Afghan refugee as it requires a potential middleman to have a connection with high officials and is an expensive process.
After decades of hosting Afghan refugees. The Pakistani caretaker government has set November 1 as the deadline for 1.7 million undocumented Afghans to leave the country or face deportation. This is incredibly difficult and heartbreaking for individuals who are born and raised in a country, and one day a 28-day deadline is announced for them to leave the country and ordered to go to a country that might have been a home to their ancestors but they have only heard about that place and had never seen and been there. This situation becomes more bayonet when the economic and security situation of a country ordered to go are dire and one has no home to return to and has the fear of being detained if deported to that country.
The Pakistani government has remained silent on human rights laws which advocate that states should grant nationality at least to those refugees born on their territory and not convicted of any criminal charges and offense against the national security of that state. Unfortunately, Pakistan did not enact nor establish any comprehensive policy and procedure to determine the refugee’s status and treated them with ambiguous Foreigners Act, 1946. This uncertain status of residence is even for the thousands of Afghan refugees born and raised in Pakistan. These poor refugees born and raised in Pakistan are considered Pakistani agents in Afghanistan and are being humiliated on both sides and remain stateless.
We need to understand that no one ever choses to be a refugee by his or her own will, it is only necessitated upon them. This decision of sudden deportation will further worsen the dire economic, security, and humanitarian situation grappling with, malnutrition, starvation, and harsh winter in Afghanistan and will create a sense of uncertainty, loss, and displacement. This sudden shift in policy will not work for Pakistan either. How the Pakistani government is going to pinpoint these refugees? They may track some poor Afghan refugees but in general, their differentiation is very difficult. This vague plan of deporting the refugees will apparently allow the local authorities to ratify whatever force they deem fit. There are already reports of Extra-judicial excesses committed by the officers during this exercise including harassing even the registered Afghans, possessing Proof of Registration (PoR) Card. They are being demanded for bribes, and forced with the confiscation of PoR card cases if they donot comply.
The current political instability, economic disaster, and internal disunity of Pakistan and Afghanistan both demand a no-showdown with Afghanistan. Moreover, the growing concern of Afghan refugees as a security threat is an inhumane childish hypothesis with scant evidence. The terrorist activities in Pakistan are mostly pursued by groups from Afghanistan and India with a deliberate strategy for sending operatives into the country. The poor Afghan refugees should not be made responsible for paying the price for this, as most of them have little or nothing to do with this. This security concern can best be dealt by focusing on improving the spatial border security mechanism and developing a comprehensive joint counterterrorism framework of cooperation with the Taliban that can seek an end to cross-border terrorism rather than extorting refugees having security concerns with the Taliban.
Afghan refugees in Pakistan are also seen as an extra burden on the country’s economy but the cause of damage to Pakistan’s economy in reality is rooted in the illegal trade. Illegal smuggling in the guise of legitimate business, is greatly impacting the economy of the country. Sadly, this trade has not been regularized as it goes against the interests of a minor powerful lobby of Pakistani citizens backed by officials who are taking personal benefits from this. Shouldn’t the illegal trade be focused on rather than deporting the refugees?
Stability and steady ties with Afghanistan are of significant importance and a strategic compulsion for Pakistan given its relations with a seven times larger country on the eastern border. It is also our moral responsibility to protect and support these vulnerable refugees. Pakistani strategists need to think about winning the hearts and minds of Afghans by making relevant sympathetic laws for removing uncertainty on the refugees’ status and refugee management in Pakistan. Pakistan needs to adopt comprehensive policies and procedures to facilitate cross-border movement and trade that could benefit both states, instead of a policy that will endure on its ideological and security interests and make a friend an enemy.