Time to address the Afghan refugee issue

Published: January 30, 2015
The writer holds a PhD in International Relations, specialising in security and governance issues including terrorism, counterterrorism and regional politics

The writer holds a PhD in International Relations, specialising in security and governance issues including terrorism, counterterrorism and regional politics

Keeping in view the recent terrorist attack in Peshawar and related multifarious security challenges posed by the millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the recent demand by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from Kabul and the international community to ensure the immediate repatriation of Afghans from Pakistan is of extreme significance. Simultaneously, the Senate’s subcommittee on interior has also expressed its dismay over the non-availability of exact figures with Pakistani authorities of Afghans living in Pakistan. According to Pakistani authorities, including the interior ministry, the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees and NADRA, there are around 1.6 million registered and approximately 1.4 million unregistered Afghans living in Pakistan. But the number of illegal Afghans who do not have their Proof of Registration (PoR) cards is greater than the estimate.

The concern shown by the highest office of Pakistan and the parliamentary body regarding Afghan refugees and illegal inhabitants are welcome but one doubts the seriousness of the government in repatriating millions of Afghans. A large number of Afghans have been living in Pakistan since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979 and the ensuing civil war. Their number had reached 4.5 million — the largest refugee population anywhere in the world. Although Pakistan and the UNHCR have been claiming that half of these refugees were repatriated in the last decade, these claims seem to be exaggerated. The millions of children, born to Afghan refugees, could not be counted. One can, therefore, observe a huge number of Afghans living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan. Consequently, with little regard to Pakistani laws and regulations, Afghan refugees have become a serious threat to Pakistan’s security.

Security is a multidimensional concept. Today, the human, political, economic, sociocultural and ecological aspects of security are equally important as is the traditional focus of security — physical protection. Against this backdrop, millions of aliens in Pakistan, pose serious security threats. The foremost threat is that Afghans have had little regard for the political, constitutional and democratic systems and institutions of Pakistan. Historically, Afghans have been averse to living under organised states and institutions. Thus, socialised in a near stateless and largely tribal milieu in Afghanistan, the first generation of Afghan refugees transmitted that culture while living in Pakistan. Resultantly, in Pakistan, Afghan refugees enjoy complete freedom, and have been known to have violated the country’s laws. Its upshot has been the role of Afghans in the activities of the TTP. The rise of the TTP, the TNSM and other groups in Fata and K-P, where Afghan refugees have had the largest concentration, is not a mere coincidence.

In addition there are strong feelings among Afghans that Pakistan has been responsible for the miseries of Afghanistan. Living with this belief there are times when Afghans consider exploiting our resources as their ‘natural’ right.

To a certain extent, the vicissitudes of international and regional geopolitics compelled Pakistan to host such a huge number of Afghans. However, giving them total freedom to live in Pakistan interminably and exploit its resources has been a policy aimed at creating wholesome feelings among the anti-Pakistan Afghans. We also wanted to create ‘strategic space’ for Pakistan inside Afghanistan. But the repercussions of such strategies have been pernicious for Pakistan. Proliferation of religious extremism, terrorism, tribalisation of our society and the spread of the Kalashinkov and madrassa culture are direct consequences of Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan and hosting of millions of Afghans on our soil.

It may take decades to repair our systems and institutions destroyed by the presence of millions of Afghans. More difficult would be to tailor our social institutions to suit our traditional values of tolerance and respect. However, this is not possible without a vivid policy decision at the highest level. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s demand and the senate’s expression of concern in this regard are not sufficient.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Atif Afghan Yousafzai
    Jan 30, 2015 - 3:54AM

    I completely disagree with you. Our problems were and are created by the Punjabi Army and ISI and not the poor hard working Afghans. and by the I am born and raised on my land provided to me in inheritance by my forefathers in Swat. this was long ago while Pakistan was not even born. we lived on this this land fro hundreds of years and we were not the ones got independence from British Raj remember.

    Also please make sure to shred some light on the INDIAN REFUGEES ” Muhajirs” next time and please make sure to talk about how they are involved in the killings of innocent people in Karachi.

    also for your kind of information Pakhtun, Pashtun, Pathan means Afghan please do search google.


  • Zalmai
    Jan 30, 2015 - 5:39AM

    Afghan refugees have become a serious threat to Pakistan’s security because they are tribal and have no concept of living in a structured society like Pakistan therefore they are dangerous. The dumbest thing I ever read.

    How do you explain the likes of Mumtaz Qadri and his admirers who garlanded him and showered him with rose petals. The very fabric of Pakistani society in Punjab where there are no Afghan refugees is dangerous to the existence of all Pakistanis especially Pashtuns.


  • Humza
    Jan 30, 2015 - 10:12AM

    @Zalmai: The truth is that it is high time that Pakistan deports all Afghans back to Afghanistan. India has used Afghanistan as a puppet state ever since the British left the region in 1947 so why can’t the Afghans just live like refugees there? Pakistan is not some developed Western country that has social housing and welfare like the European countries that can afford to house thousands of Afghan refugees who will never integrate or work in those nations. All nations have a duty to take care of their own citizens first and there is no justification for housing millions of Afghan refugees who are a burden on the state.


  • lakki marwat
    Jan 30, 2015 - 10:43AM

    @Atif Afghan yousafzai:

    This is NOT your land. Once again this is NOT your land. Your land is Afghanistan, not khyber-pakhtunkhwa and nor FATA. I’m Pakistani Pashtun and I want nothing to do with you and the likes of you. You sold your national honour and dignity to the British for a very small amount of money and later on did precisely the same with Soviet Union and India. You (Afghanistan) are just a colony of India currently. Had it not been for Pakistan, you would not have anywhere to go. Both Iran and Tajikistan closed their borders for you. And get your facts straight, it was precisely the same ISI that check-mated the soviets in Afghanistan and sent them home. Show some respect. Btw there are Pashtuns also in ISI and Pak Army, lots of them. In fact the last two Nishan-e-Haider were Pashtuns. I think you should go back to your real home RIGHT NOW. You have overstayed and created nothing but trouble for us. You are a source of shame for Pakistani Pashtuns.

    ET please publish.


  • khalid khan khattak
    Jan 30, 2015 - 10:49AM

    Afghanistan and India have a pretty romantic relationship. Why shouldn’t the millions of Afghans be sent to India? I’m pretty sure both parties would benefit from this :)


  • Grace
    Jan 30, 2015 - 9:41PM

    @Atif Afghan Yousafzai: I completely agree with the author. As a Pashtun, Indians and Afghan nationals conveniently forget that there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. We remember how Afghan refugees whether Tajik, Hazara, Nooristani or Pakhtun were welcomed by our people in KPK and how our hospitality was abused. The killings of our children by groups hiding in Afghanistan and supported by India necessitates a firm action from the government. It is not just time to deport the refugee Afghan but also time to seal the border so they don’t come back. Let them run to Iran and other places but we do not need the problems they bring like smuggling, prostitution, gun violence and lawlessness. There is a good reason why Afghan nationals always want to run away from their own country.


  • Atif Afghan Yousafzai
    Jan 30, 2015 - 10:57PM


    “Smuggling, Prostitution, Gun Violence and Lawlessness” – your Punjab if involved in smuggling, your heera Mandi and a lot of markets in karachi are openly involved in prostitution, with the help of ISI Jumat I islami brought upon us the jihadi and AK47 culture, and now PTI and JI are training our teachers of how to use guns. this whole mess is created by your beloved establishment and not the poor afghan refugees who are selling fruits or working hard as a labour.

    Pakistan is involved in destabilising Afghanistan since 1970 long before the Russian came. Pak destroyed Afghanistan through mujahedeen’s and later through Talib Jan. your army is only good for killing innocent people ( you can see that in Tribal Belt, swat, Buner and balochistan) and will not dare to fight indian army. we know the history of how Pak army lost 1965 war, lost Bangal in 1971, lost Kargil war


  • Visibly
    Jan 30, 2015 - 11:44PM

    In my country Norway, we have a large group of immigrants, i.e, 13% of our population! About 0.7% are from Pakistan or children of Pakistani immigrants.
    In your population of 190 million, that would mean 25 million immigrants, of which 1.3 millions are from Pakistan.
    By the way, 77% of our “Pakistanis” have Norwegian citizenship. And they do very well.
    Should we in Norway say no to more people from Pakistan (like most Norwegians would like)?
    Or do you think that in the global world of today that migration should be allowed, and that citizenship should be approved (at least in those that integrate and add to society)?


  • Kabir
    Jan 31, 2015 - 1:38AM

    There is no question that Afghans have legitimate grievances against Pakistanis (our “strategic depth” doctrine being just one example). However, please don’t forget which country took in the most refugees after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Now your country is doing better, you guys can go home. You are NOT Pakistani citizens and Pakistan has no obligation to host you forever.

    Regarding Pasthuns, Pakthuns, Pathans: Those on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line are Pakistanis and the rest are Afghan. The borders of Pakistan are not going to change. Peshawar is Pakistan and all those who feel otherwise are free to go back to Afghanistan.


  • nasir khan marri baloch
    Jan 31, 2015 - 5:42AM

    Most of the sex-trade workers in Pakistan are Afghans. Yes, there are prostitution houses in different places in Pakistan but the majority of the sex-trade workers working in them are Afghans. This is a source of crime for us.Same is the case with gun violence, terrorism, smuggling.


  • truthbetold
    Jan 31, 2015 - 9:44AM

    Well, what caused the Afghans to move across the border to Pakistan in the first place?

    The answer lies in Pakistan’s strategic depth doctrine to destabilize Afghanistan through terrorist proxies in the past four decades. In the course, Pakistan pocketed $3B international money meant to take care of the refugees.

    On a bigger picture, Balochistan, KP, Swat, FATA etc. where a lot of the refugees are located, had been part of Afghanistan for centuries. So, the Afghan refugees technically re living on their own lands.


  • Humza
    Jan 31, 2015 - 1:23PM

    @truthbetold: Then by your argument, all Afghans should run to india as refugees. After all India has used Afghanistan as a base for cross border mischief in Pakistan or strategic depth since 1947. Even former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said India uses bases in Afghanistan for creating troubles in Pakistan. Successive Afghan governments have interfered in failed ventures for India like Pashtoonistan instead of working for their own people in Afghanistan. Do you remember obsession of Afghan President Sardar Daood for Peshawar ? In the bigger picture Afghanistan destabilized itself long before Soviet invasion by allowing India to use it for strategic depth. This is the bigger picture. If you ask people in KPK, Swat, Baluchistan the locals all want the refugees to be deported. The Indians who are posting here under fake names know the reality.


  • Zalmai
    Jan 31, 2015 - 1:28PM

    @Lakki Marwat, Humza & Grace

    All your posts are devoid of any rationale or logic and full of venomous vitriol.

    @ Nasir Khan Baloch

    Kabul is full of Pakistani and Chinese prostitutes, which doesn’t mean all Pakistani and Chinese people engage in the sex trade in Afghanistan. Please refrain from stooping so low as to resort labeling people because of your hatred for them.

    Lakki Marwat wrora: Pashtuns in Pakistan are at the receiving end of terror and suppression by the establishment and their assets called the Taliban and other franchises that spawned from these assets. Zarb e Azb has made millions homeless and turned thousands in to refugees but you still sing the praises of the ISI.

    Your ISI and army lost every war it fought against their former selves and 90,000 surrendered to them in one day. That is the reality of your army, which is only good at killing Pashtuns and Baloch. I challenge your army and ISI to arrest Punjabi ideologues that head terror organizations and openly defy the government in public rallies in Lahore.

    Afghans fought the Russians not the effeminate IndoPak ISI, get your facts straight. Pakistani Pashtuns live in a reservation called FATA where they are subjected to colonial era laws like Federal Crimes Regulation and corrupt political agents and you are proud of living under Punjab.

    A Pashtun in Pakistan will always live under the shadow of Punjab and you will get an award here and there and token positions in the government and army, that is the extent of a Pashtun’s reach in Pakistan. Wake up and smell the shne chai.


  • Asfandyar
    Feb 2, 2015 - 2:22AM

    There is a difference between an immigrant and a political refugee who doesn’t agree with our right to exist as a nation…and the live like military battalions around major cities…..
    According to Afghanistan…. 60% of our country belongs to them and they treat us like foreigners in our own land One can’t go to hayatabad in Peshawar with Pakistani flag and not get threatened by an Afghan cave dweller.


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