Dr Muhammad Khan
Pakistan is a unique country which hosted over 4 million Afghan refugees at a time from 1980s till first decade of 21st century. In early 1980s, once there was Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan accommodated these Afghan refugees with lot of pleasure and a warm welcome. The process continued till-date. Today in 2018, still there are over 2.6 million refugees stationed at various locations in Pakistan and spending their lives with peacefully. Apart from providing refugee, the people of Pakistan have always facilitated their Afghan brethren in all respect.
Unfortunately, over the years, many militants (both locals and Afghan nationals) have been found, taking refuge in the camps of Afghan refugees. This was mainly revealed during the conduct of intelligence based operations conducted alongside Operation Zarb-i-Azm and later during Operation Radd ul Fasaad. These militants, once arrested have confessed that, they have been using the Afghan refugees’ camps as their hideouts. In in most of the cases upon arrest, militants confessed that, they have sent to these Camps by Afghan spying network, NDS and Indian spying network RAW, indeed, both operate against Pakistan in unison.
Under such circumstances, it has become extremely essential to repatriate the Afghan refugees back to their country. Indeed, Pakistan and its people had no problem with the presence of Afghan refugees since last almost three decades; however, their return has become a compulsion, once there is a conspiracy from the Kabul against Pakistan, using the Afghan refugee camps. In the same backdrop, the Pakistani Army Chief, General Qamar Jawad Bajwa has demanded their return at Munich Security Conference. This was indeed, a reiteration to what he said at Kabul, during the conference of Chiefs of Defence. General Bajwa clearly told the participants of the conference that, the Afghan Refugee concentration has been regularly used “by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Haqqani network to recruit morph and melt”. He therefore, made a strong recommendation that, “It is time for these refugees to be repatriated with dignity. It is the only way we can ensure that no one is misusing our hospitality and soil for mischief in Afghanistan. This is possible at the fraction of the cost of the war in Afghanistan which is around $46 billion per year currently.”
Pakistan desire that, the dignity of Afghan refugees must be maintain till they go back to their parent country. Since their self-respect and purity is being compromised by NDS and RAW, therefore, it is better for them to go back to their country with honour. In some of the cases, once the refugees, who have given refugee to militants were interrogated, they clearly confessed that, NDS mandated them to give refugee to these militants otherwise you they (refugees) will face dire consequences, upon return. The strategy, Afghan Govt and its spying network has adopted is; to send the militants in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and later blame Pakistan for providing hideouts to militants.
This has not been revealed through an isolated incident or event, rather there have been hundreds of such cases. Based on these evidences, Pakistani Govt and its military is emphasising the Afghan Government and international community for the honourable return of Afghan refugees on priority. Despite pressure from the civil society and economic constraint, Pakistan has not asked for their return till their camps were not been used by militants. In the past few years, virtually the camps of Afghan refugees were being used by militants, creating serious security threat for Pakistan.
General Bajwa clearly highlighted these aspects in Munich Security Conference once he said, “Today I can say with pride and conviction that there are no organised camps on our side of the border. However, presence of terrorists of various hues and colours cannot be ruled out. We still have their active and sleeper cells and they are hiding in mountains, border towns and 54 refugee camps, besides some major town and cities.”
Unfortunately, the response from the Afghan Government about the repatriation of Afghan refugees has not been very welcoming. Even on February 17, 2018, President Ashraf Ghani has given a two years’ time table for the return of 2.6 million Afghan refugees President Ghani said in a statement, “In the next 24 months my priority and goal is to bring back all Afghan refugees in Pakistan. We don’t want them [Pakistanis] to say refugees do this or do that. [We know] refugees are innocent. So, let us resolve to bring them back to solve this problem once for all.” This statement of President Ghani is reckless, secretive and intolerable for Pakistan. This mean NDS and RAW will use these camps for another two years to bleed Pakistan and blame it too?
In the wordings of Gen Bajwa Pakistan understand Kabul’s predicaments and compulsions. Since Kabul regime gets funding from US and India, therefore it has to accept their directives. But, Pakistan cannot allow that its hospitality to Afghan refugees be misused to destabilise Pakistan. Today, Pakistan has become an attractive place for international financial investment; therefore, it would not like destabilisation of its borders and terrorism inside. Therefore, sooner the Afghan refugees repatriated; there will come a sustainable peace and stability inside Pakistan with no chance of accusations.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.
Dr Muhammad Khan