Afghan refugee crisis brews in Pakistan | By Waseem Shabbir 


Afghan refugee crisis brews in Pakistan

EXODUS of Afghan refugees assumed analarming form of a worst international humanitarian crisis in the first quarter of 21st century. Wherever war and violence exists, it begets refugees.

When people’s fundamental needs including their life security, shelter and food become jeopardised by an unwanted bloodshed and massacre, they prefer fleeing the persecution in an attempt to save their lives.

According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) currently no fewer than 82.4 million people are taking refuge in various parts of the world.

Turkey hosts the largest swath of refugees nearing 3.7 million. Pakistan is also hosting about 3 million Afghan refugees out of which 1,435,445 are registered refugees.

Afghanistan, an immediate neighbour of Pakistan, has been a battle ground for various competing powers for years. It has always faced warfare, annihilation, turmoil and destruction at the hands of varying fighting groups.

Now, with US and NATO abrupt departure from Afghan soil & Taliban’s return to power has once again sparked fears in Pakistan about the fresh wave of Afghan refugees.

It was Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 when Pakistan first time bore a huge burden of Afghan refugees.

Subsequently, their numbers were considerably increased after US launched its military operation against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001.

People of Afghanistan are completely resistant to live under Taliban’s despotic and barbaric rule.

Though Taliban have declared an open amnesty to all Afghans who had worked with Ghani’s regime, yet people are not ready to forget Taliban’s dark, conservative and tyrannical epoch of rule from 1996 to 2001.

They (Taliban) have vowed to treat civilians politely and gently and intend to violating no one’s rights, especially of women, but people are equally skeptical of their statements of assurances and consolations rather preferring to flee.

The increasing number of Afghan women coming out and protesting against Taliban is a stark evidence of their reluctance to accept and legitimise Taliban’s government.

Despite US withdrawal the precarious and volatile situation largely remains there which can be a triggering factor behind a fresh influx of Afghan refugees to Pakistan.

For instance, as per FSB a Russia’s Intelligence Agency’s reports, forces of President Amarullah Saleh and warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum will remain resistant and combatant to launch full scale armed attacks against Taliban’s government in near future despite their temporary retreat and setback at the hands of Taliban’s military operation at Panjshir valley now.

Moreover, Northern Alliance, being prejudiced against Taliban, is likely to join hands with Panjshir forces to equally resist Taliban’s takeover.

If the confrontation between two sides expands in future, it will lead to a civil war; a chaotic, tumultuous and disastrous situation for civilians forcing them to flee the terror stricken country.

US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also warned of a “civil war” if the Taliban fail to consolidate their power. Here civil war in Afghanistan simply means producing more refugees.

Furthermore, horrific bombings by Islamic State of Khusran group at Kabul airport killing over 100 civilians including 13 US soldiers spreaded trepidation all around; an occurrence pushing Afghans to leave this war-battered country.

Recently, up to 2 million Afghan refugees have also been forcibly repatriated to Afghanistan together by Turkey, Iran and European Union who upon seeing the turbulent situations in Afghanistan can march towards Pakistan to seek refuge.

The United Nations has already alarmed of new 700000 refugees’ influx to Pakistan by December. Harbouring more refugees would not be free from a tough challenge for Pakistan.

It is already bearing the burden of no fewer than three million Afghan refugees, half of them are registered. Hosting new 700000 refugees means Pakistan has to afford the cost of $2.2 billion for three years.

How Pakistan’s economy can afford this enormous cost when it is already depending on IMF bailouts. Another big issue is that large number of terrorists will enter Pakistan under the garb of Afghan refugees if Pakistan’s government allows them to take refuge here.

Terrorists will pose a great threat to the security apparatus of Pakistan by indulging in activities of terrorism and extremism directly or indirectly doing harm to Pakistan.

Following the 1951 Convention of Refugees under UNHCR and its 1967 protocol, Pakistan always embraced Afghan refugees.

This time again the onus lies on government’s shoulders as how sagaciously and prudently it will tackle the newly emerged refugees crisis.

Anticipated, government seems to making arrangements on Iranian model, will be keeping newly entered refugees in safe camps near to bordering areas in order to restrict their free movement.

It can also work on adjusting Afghan internally displaced people on their own soil in safe areas nearing Pakistan’s border.

However, Pakistan’s dwindling economy alone can not afford such huge expenses of sheltering a large number of refugees, provision of foods and basic life necessities and requires UNHCR and World Bank to fund Pakistan for all these projects.

Nevertheless, it will be the diplomatic, geopolitical and strategic dexterity on part of Pakistan’s government to seek a strong consensus among varying combating factions in order to win peace in Afghanistan leading to the prevention of refugees’ influx.

Pakistan along with other international key players including US, China and Russia needs to exert its influence on Taliban and pressure them to bury the hatchet and make peace with all opposing sides in order to form an inclusive government which would be acceptable to all Afghans.

The recent 21st SCO summit held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, can be considered helpful in resolving Afghan crisis.

However, peace, Inclusive government, non violation of human rights, public security and political and economic stability are some measures that can greatly help in satisfying the general public to stay in their own country instead of crossing international borders.

Let’s see, how far Pakistan succeeds in achieving the goal of averting Afghan refugees’ exodus to Pakistan.

—The writer is Gujranwala based geopolitical analyst and freelance columnist.

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