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Afghan Refugees and Pakistan

Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have been marred by political instability over the past few decades. The presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan has further exacerbated the political tensions between the two countries. 

An Illustration on Afghan Refugees and Pakistan

Illustration by The Geostrata


Over the course of the last forty years, millions of Afghan citizens have fled their war-ravaged homeland and sought sanctuary in neighbouring Pakistan. However, with Pakistan currently facing a financial crisis, these refugee Afghan citizens have become a financial burden.


Consequently, on October 3, 2023, the Government of Pakistan issued an order for 1.7 million Afghan citizens to return to their homeland by November 1, 2023.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani government has not devised a plan to ensure the safe repatriation of these individuals to Afghanistan. This lack of clarity has left the Afghan refugees in Pakistan feeling confused and uncertain about their future. Moreover, the exorbitant fees charged by Pakistani agents at the border, nearly one million Pakistani rupees, pose a significant challenge for these citizens who wish to return to Afghanistan and start afresh.


The roots of this Afghan refugee crisis can be traced back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The subsequent decade-long conflict resulted in millions of Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistan.

Even after the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the country remained embroiled in a civil war, and since 2001, it has become a focal point of the US-led war on terrorism. This ongoing power struggle has compelled many Afghans to abandon their homeland and seek shelter in Pakistan.


Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan's political instability can be traced back to the Soviet-US conflict in 1979. During this time, Pakistan actively participated in the Afghan political landscape with the support of the United States.


One of the most notable contributions was Pakistan's role in supplying arms to the Mujahideen, who fought against the Soviet Union. This support not only helped the Mujahideen in their resistance but also contributed to the overall destabilization of Afghanistan. As the conflict between the Taliban and the democratically elected Afghan government unfolded, Pakistan's involvement became even more apparent.


The country's intelligence agency, ISI, maintained close ties with Taliban leaders during the Afghan civil war. This relationship allowed Pakistan to exert influence and control over the Taliban, further exacerbating the political instability in Afghanistan.

Numerous intelligence agencies from various countries have provided evidence of Pakistan's strategic guidance and assistance to the Taliban. Despite repeated denials from the Pakistani government, the global community has widely accepted Pakistan as a major sponsor of terrorism. The case of Osama Bin Laden, who was found hiding in Pakistan, further solidified this perception and raised questions about Pakistan's commitment to combating terrorism.


Within Pakistan, the Haqqani network, a prominent group, plays a significant role in financing terrorist organizations such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Pakistan utilizes this group to exert influence in Afghanistan, further contributing to the political instability in the region. This has led to a growing resentment among ordinary Afghan citizens towards Pakistan, as they see the country as a source of support for the groups that perpetuate violence and instability in their country.


Overall, Pakistan's historical involvement in Afghanistan has had a significant impact on the political instability in the region. From supplying arms to the Mujahideen to maintaining ties with the Taliban, Pakistan's actions have contributed to the ongoing conflict and hindered efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the second largest in Pakistan, have a rich history of resisting foreign rule. The Durand Frontier, which was established in 1893 through a treaty between the British Empire and the Emirate of Afghanistan, created a border that divided the Pashtun homeland.


Following Pakistan's independence, the Pashtun community in Pakistan demanded self-determination and the unification of Pashtun lands, but their requests were denied by the Pakistani government, which accepted the Durand Line as the official border with Afghanistan.


This decision was met with strong opposition from the Pashtun people of Afghanistan, who view the Durand boundary as an artificial and unjust border imposed on them by outsiders. The Pashtun-dominated tribal areas of Pakistan have been under the control of the Pakistan Army for decades, and the basic human rights of the Pashtun people have been continuously violated by the Pakistani government.


In Afghanistan, Pashtuns have provided significant support to the Taliban and other Pashtun-dominated insurgent groups, while in Pakistan, Pashtun nationalists have been protesting against the government's control of tribal areas for years. Some Pakistani Pashtuns are providing support to the Taliban due to the larger presence of Pashtuns within the Taliban ranks.

Presently, the Pakistani government is grappling with the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a terrorist organization that originated in 2007. However, the root cause of this predicament lies within Pakistan's own history. Between 1979 and 1989, the Pakistani government trained and financed these radical Pashtun groups to encourage Pakistani Pashtuns to back the Afghan Mujahideen, who were opposing the Soviet invasion. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, many of these Pashtuns returned to Pakistan with a fervent desire to establish an Islamic-style regime. They felt betrayed by the Pakistani government during the war.


In 1994, the Taliban emerged in Afghanistan and began implementing a strict Islamic regime. Pakistani Pashtuns viewed the Taliban's success as a model to emulate, and 15 years later, Pashtun Islamic fundamentalists united to form the Tehreek-e-Taliban terrorist organization in Pakistan. Their primary objective is to overthrow the Pakistani government and establish an Islamic regime.


Since the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan, there has been a significant increase in attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban within Pakistan. Furthermore, the extremists who were trained by Pakistan to fight in Afghanistan are heavily involved in these activities. Consequently, the radical monster created by Pakistan is now attempting to consume Pakistan itself.

The tragic incident in the mosque in Pakistan in September 2023 has had far-reaching consequences, particularly for Afghan refugees residing in the country. The identification of one of the attackers as an Afghan citizen has led to a swift decision by the Pakistani government to expel all Afghan refugees within a week. This decision has sparked a rigorous campaign against Afghan refugees, with Pakistani authorities conducting searches in their settlements. The fear instilled among Afghan nationals has prompted many to cross the border back into Afghanistan, without any support or facilities.


This mass exodus poses a significant challenge for both countries, especially for the children born to Afghan families who have resided in Pakistan for decades. These children find themselves without citizenship in either Pakistan or Afghanistan, creating a complex issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, the crisis has the potential to exacerbate existing problems in Afghanistan, such as child labour and child trafficking. With the sudden influx of Afghan refugees, the already fragile situation in the country is further strained. Afghan citizens hold Pakistan responsible for the political instability in their country, leading to a growing anti-Pakistan sentiment among the Afghan population. It is important to note that out of the 24 suicide attacks that occurred in Pakistan last year, 14 were attributed to Afghan nationals.


The religious turmoil created by Pakistan is now coming back to haunt the country itself, leading to a precarious situation. The strained Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are further exacerbated by the refugee issue, making it imperative for both countries to find a resolution that addresses the concerns of Afghan refugees while ensuring the security and stability of their citizens.


 

BY SHAMBHAVI THITE

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