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Prevent Influx of more Afghan refugees

Shafqat Sultan and Humera Karim

True that the Pakistanis being the neighbouring brotherly Muslim nation have their moral obligation of welcoming, helping and looking after those seeking refuge in Pakistan when they have pressing times in their own country, Afghanistan. This has already been proved by Pakistan during the USSR invasion in the 70s, during the Afghan war and the Taliban takeover; more than four million Afghan refugees have stayed in Pakistan for more than two decades, out of which over one million have never returned to Afghanistan even after “peace” returned in wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan.

The Afghan ‘brethren’ were warmly welcome during the so-called Afghan jihad period; we share with them not only our land, residences, roads, pavements and agricultural fields, but also shared our morsel of bread, water, milk, kitchen and living items, besides economy, business, markets, shops, schools, hospitals, values, social contacts and all kind of bondages which no other nation has ever done in the past. Take the example of Iran; the country also shared the burden of a bulk of influx of Afghan refugees but the Iranian authorities, very wisely though, restricted the refugees into barbed wire walled camps where there were not allowed to come out and go to urban or unsettled areas. They were issued special refugee cards and they were entitled to getting ration and other households only under controlled mechanism.

With the passage of time the Afghan refugees started taking over the society and economy and then everything in their hands, they stretched their arms and legs and expanded their reach to all nook and corners of the country, sometime making the locals their hostage. Today they are like an octopus that has spread its wings and snatched way locals’ business and livelihood centres. Apart from business, they got involved in ‘lucrative’ criminal business activities that become major source of their earning and plaguing the local society with arms influx, drugs’ smuggling and polluting the society with various ensuing ills. They are now a mafia.

Once again there are now reports in the international media that after the exit of US-allied forces from Afghanistan by the 2014 year end, there are chances of great turmoil returning to Afghanistan and a similar number of refugees again rushing to Pakistan. If this happens, this would add to our already aggravated woes and there must be stern efforts on the the international level not to leave Afghanistan in chaos or at the mercy of warlords or the Taliban. If at all it happens and there is no alternative, the international community must take preemptive measures by joining hands with the Pakistan government and its provincial capitals to let not turn this menace into monster like it turned into during the Afghan jihad era. Already the international community has done nothing either in repatriation of remaining over one million refugees to Afghanistan, as well as aiding and helping Pakistan to provide them shelter and pave way for their repatriation. Most of them have managed to get Pakistani identity cards, citizenship documents and acquired business, agricultural and residential lands. This has not only restricted to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but spread to Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Their penetration in the Punjab province is so deep that the motorway surrounding areas have all been occupied by them where they own petrol and CNG pumps, etc. With the great caches of arms in their possession they have got scared the local unarmed population.

If the government under Nawaz Sharif, and provincial capitals under the chief minister do not take action prior to their further exodus into the country, there is a serious crisis going to emerge, which would have serious impact and may lead to a civil war. Already there has been IDPs from the military operation areas or the areas where the terrorists have played frequent havocs. There is a fear of more people displacing from the North Waziristan area if a due action starts within days or weeks as the talks with Taliban have ended to their original fate and the government has announced is security policy that is tactically and more logically offensive.

There are a few important steps which can help the government to take as immediately as possible if the national interest, rule of law, good governance and solidarity and integrity of the country are a priority. The Pakistan government must try to accept minimum number of refugees if at all it is compelled to do so. The refugees must be restricted to refugee camps, who should not be allowed to go beyond their limit. The camps must be built with the international community’s help, ensuring high walls and barbed wire and all security measures without fear of intimidation and insinuation, bribe and bargain. They must go through a proper registration system, issued refugee identity cards, along with ration cards, and other travel documents. Their passports and documents of origin must be confiscated and kept in custody of the government. Earnest efforts be made to check the authenticity of their original documents, which is obviously a herculean task but highly necessary, so that no suspected element intrudes in refugees’ guise, which is most likely.

No Afghan refugee should be allowed to do business, own a property and even do partnership or investment with locals, unless it is most necessary that too within the area of refugee camp. For that an NOC (no objection certificate) must be made mandatory. Limit of stay and number of family members should be fixed for duration of stay in Pakistan. They must not be allowed to hire a house or business centre in any urban or countryside area. Those possessing fake or incomplete documents must be forced back to Afghanistan and reported to UN’s refugee agency. Special police stations and refugee camp-specific offices and staff be established to control and limit the refugees’ activities. Strict action must be taken, ruthless and swift punishment procedure must be adopted for those who do any criminal act under the law of the land. Anyone shielding a spy or suspected individual or providing him or her information or in contact with suspicious elements, anyone possession cash beyond permissible allowance not only must forego the possession but also be held liable under the law. No Afghan refugee should be allowed to shift to any other country from Pakistan. The schooling and healthcare facilities etc must be provided to the refugees children under a well thought out and well planned policy keeping in view the future strategy of the country. The refugee camps should not locate along the border areas of Afghanistan or India or Iran.

Most of all a preemptive policy must be made much before that influx happens in order to envisage, foresee and gauge the impact and repercussions of that exodus from Afghanistan. Any failure in taking such preventive measure would lead to our national failure and major loss of our economy, law and order and the country may plunge to further chaos, anarchy and civil war like situation.

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