Repatriating illegal Afghan refugees

The TTP has got modern weapons from the Afghan Taliban

Pakistan has a lengthy history of hosting Afghan refugees, dating back to the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. The influx of displaced Afghans has significantly impacted Pakistan, presenting a complex array of challenges. According to the latest available data, Pakistan is home to one of the largest refugee populations globally, with a substantial portion being Afghan refugees. The majority reside in provinces bordering Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. While some live in refugee camps, many are integrated into local communities, adding to the complexity of the situation.

A primary challenge Pakistan confronts due to Afghan refugees is economic strain. Providing essential services such as healthcare, education, and housing to a significant refugee population demands substantial financial resources.

The protracted nature of the Afghan refugee crisis has exacerbated the strain on Pakistan’s economy, impacting the country’s ability to adequately allocate resources for its own citizens. The presence of Afghan refugees has also raised security concerns for Pakistan. The porous border between the two countries has facilitated the movement of people, sometimes exploited by extremist elements. Pakistan has had to grapple with the challenge of distinguishing between genuine refugees seeking safety and those with malicious intent, leading to increased security measures and border controls.

The incorporation of Afghan refugees into Pakistani society has introduced social challenges. Instances of cultural disparities, language barriers, and competition for jobs and resources have occasionally resulted in tensions between host communities and the refugee population. Striking a delicate equilibrium between compassion and the management of social cohesion has proven to be a nuanced undertaking for Pakistan.]

The education sector in Pakistan confronts hurdles due to the presence of Afghan refugees, with a surge in demand for educational facilities placing additional strain on an already stretched system. Policymakers now grapple with the considerable challenge of ensuring access to quality education for both Pakistani and Afghan refugee children.

Another noteworthy issue is the strain on healthcare services. Afghan refugees frequently arrive with health conditions stemming from conflict and inadequate healthcare in their home country. Meeting the healthcare needs of both the local population and refugees has stretched Pakistan’s healthcare infrastructure, making it difficult to provide comprehensive and timely services. Furthermore, the Afghan refugee crisis has impacted Pakistan’s diplomatic relations. Navigating the delicate balance between humanitarian concerns and political and security considerations has proven challenging for the Pakistani government. The expectations and support of the international community in managing the refugee crisis have played a critical role, and strained relations with Afghanistan further compound the complexity of the situation.

A significant concern faced by Pakistan revolves around the issue of terrorism from Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Various factors contribute to the involvement of illegal and undocumented Afghan refugees in supporting and facilitating TTP. TTP utilizes advanced weaponry to exert full force in targeting both the military and civilian populace and installations within Pakistan. Notably, the Afghan government is implicated in supporting and hosting TTP.

There has been a drain on resources, and some refugees have engaged in illegal activities, including terrorism and smuggling, against Pakistan. Despite extending remarkable services, the nation has faced poverty, unemployment, and terrorism. No country allows refugees to reside openly for an unlimited period.

Major revelations were made by the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs concerning the use of US-made weapons against Pakistan by the outlawed TTP. Chairman Michael McCall asserted that the Emirate of Islamia is aiding TTP in arming itself against Pakistan. In response, the spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the American statement, calling it baseless. The Pentagon report further exposed TTP’s use of US weapons, revealing that $7.12 billion worth of defense equipment remained in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal on 30 August 2021.

According to the report, the US had provided a total of 427,300 combat weapons to the Afghan military, with 300,000 still in existence at the time of withdrawal. After the US withdrawal, these weapons came under the control of the Islamic Emirate and subsequently reached the hands of anti-Pakistani groups, thereby strengthening TTP and Baloch separatist groups militarily. The region has witnessed a substantial increase in terrorism over the past two years, with the US supplying $18.6 billion in equipment to Afghan national defense and security forces between 2005 and August 2021.

Former Islamic Emirate commanders are reported to have willingly handed over a significant amount of these weapons to TTP, enabling the group to conduct cross-border operations and spread terror in the region over the past two years. This surge in violence is evident in a video released by TTP in August 2022, showcasing various weapons, including M24 sniper rifles, M16A4 rifles equipped with thermal scopes, M4 carbines with Trijicon ACOG scopes, DShKM heavy machine guns, and T-15 heavy 5mm launchers.

These weapons were reportedly used by TTP in carrying out terrorist activities in Peshawar, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, and Dera Ismail Khan, resulting in the targeted killing of 118 police personnel in terrorist incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2022. In the first four months of 2023, 120 police personnel were targeted by TTP. Furthermore, the Baloch Liberation Army attacked FC camps in Nushki and Panjgur districts in February 2022 using the same weapons.

The TTP also employed American weapons in the attack on Jhope Garrison on July 12, following the release of pictures on May 16, depicting TTP terrorists undergoing training. These images reveal fighters armed with advanced defensive weapons, including thermal vision helmets, rifles, and laser sights, emphasizing that the Islamic Emirate is arming not only TTP but other terrorist organizations, providing a secure channel for these activities.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar emphasized that Pakistan will not tolerate actions against its sovereignty, and the Afghan Taliban will closely observe the situation. He insisted that Afghanistan should take decisive action against terrorist elements. Kakar stated that our security forces engage in daily operations against terrorists, highlighting the necessity of negotiations between the USA and the Taliban. He emphasized that negotiations are possible only with those who surrender voluntarily, asserting that the state cannot be coerced at gunpoint. He also emphasized that challenging decisions must be made in the interest of the state.

Kakar pointed out that the Afghan government was aware of the TTP’s whereabouts. Two years ago, during feigned talks, they were present on Afghan soil. The Afghan Taliban are cognizant that the TTP operates from there. Kakar urged the Afghan Taliban to decide whether to take action against them or hand them over, making it clear that such actions will not be tolerated. He underscored that the TTP is not located in Central Asian states but on Afghan soil.

Kakar emphasized that those wishing to negotiate with the state must first disarm, emphasizing that the justification for taking up arms is illegitimate. He urged negotiations as a means to dispel misunderstandings. Kakar also emphasized that those residing illegally should return through legal channels.

On this issue the stance of the Armed Forces and the entire nation is aligned. Pakistan, as a country that welcomed Afghan refugees, allowed them to live and work across the nation instead of confining them to refugee camps.

However, there has been a drain on resources, and some refugees have engaged in illegal activities, including terrorism and smuggling, against Pakistan. Despite extending remarkable services, the nation has faced poverty, unemployment, and terrorism. No country allows refugees to reside openly for an unlimited period.

The current campaign aims to repatriate only illegal and undocumented Afghan refugees and not those residing legally. The nation fully supports the decision taken in the larger interests of the country.

Abdul Basit Alvi
Abdul Basit Alvi
The writer is a freelance columnist

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