SWAT: Residents of Swat of Afghanistan origin have complained that they are being harassed by police and security agencies under the guise of a repatriation drive for Afghan refugees.
“I have been living here since my forefathers migrated here from Afghanistan during the state era in Swat,” Lal Muhammad, a cloth merchant, told The Express Tribune. “I was born here, studied here, married here and work here; I don’t even call myself an Afghan,” he added.
However, he said that for the past month, residents such as him, who are of Afghanistan origin, are being repeatedly harassed by police and security agencies. “They come to our workplaces and our homes and at times take us in for questioning, demanding legal documents and investigating us like we are some sort of criminals,” said Muhammad. “We all are legal residents of Pakistan and possess Pakistani identity cards and passports. This sort of discriminatory treatment is unacceptable,” he added.
Muhammad’s forefathers were among the around 100 families which migrated to Swat before it merged with Pakistan in 1969. The then state rulers allowed them to live there, establish businesses and own properties. These families have since lived here as permanent residents, sharing the society’s norms and traditions.
Another such resident, Haji Sharaf, who too has been troubled by the repeated inquiries by the police, said his family migrated to Pakistan long before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and have been living here as permanent residents for the last 40 years. “Even when we visit Afghanistan we do so using Pakistani passports so how can they call us Afghans? We are Pakistani residents and we love our country,” he remarked.
But what is more disconcerting is that most of the police or security agency officials who visit us refuse to prove their identity, said a local vendor who requested not to be named for security concerns. “They come dressed up as civilians and don’t disclose their identity even when asked, what proof we have that they are not police impersonators,” he added. He said that while the government should take action against illegal Afghans, it should also ensure that those living legally must not be pestered.
Mingora Cloth Merchants Association President concurred. He said that the officials who come to inquire about the status of residents with Afghan roots do not disclose their names or even the names of their departments. “We are with the government if it wants to check if Afghan refugees have Proof of Registration (POR) but it should make sure that legal residents are not perturbed in the process,” he added.
“I assure all those Afghans who have legal documents that they will not be bothered or harassed by any government department,” District Coordination Officer Kamran Rehman said when inquired about the issue. He said that officials visit these residents only to know about their legal status, which includes ensuring whether they have POR cards.
He added that if legal residents feel they are being harassed, they should immediately contact his office or the nearest police station.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Home Department in August this year directed all unregistered Afghan refugees to leave Pakistan voluntarily and launched an operation against them earlier this month.
Earlier in March, each Afghan refugee was offered $150 by the UN refugee agency to repatriate voluntarily and over 36,000 refugees left for Afghanistan via the Torkham border.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.