EDITORIAL: The world is awakening to the fact that facilitation of refugees both in terms of integration and repatriation is of utmost significance for harmonious socio-cultural and politico-economic dispensation around the globe. There seems to be a widespread realization that the scars in the hearts of refugee families due to leaving their hearths and homes in the midst of natural or manmade disasters must be healed.
Besides Refugees Conventions and Protocols, the Amnesty International calls for:
- Not be forced to return to a country where they are at risk of human rights abuses.
• Be resettled when they are in a vulnerable situation.
• Not be discriminated against.
• Have access to work, be housed and be educated.
• Be allowed to move freely, and keep their own identity and travel documents.”
Pakistan is not a signatory to the Convention of Refugees of 1951 and Protocol on Refugees of 1967 but it is still advisable that Pakistan should go for facilitating the Afghan Refugees for its own benefit. First, Pakistan might consider the option of integrating those refugee families whose third generation has been consistently living in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan. Second, Pakistan might develop refugee zones for those refugee families whose forced return might put their lives in severe danger. Third, Pakistan might facilitative those refugee families who would like to repatriate out of their free will. The facilitation for repatriation might include transport facilities, guaranteeing due compensation for assets the refugee families leave behind and strictly monitoring law enforcement agencies and district administrations so that refugees are not humiliated and fleeced.
The facilitation process might help Pakistan reap three major benefits that she badly needs currently. First, Pakistan might earn good will among the Afghans that can lead to confidence building measures for thawing ice of distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Second, Pakistan might save itself from regional and international isolation. Integrating with the states of the region, including Afghanistan, has the potential to have access to the energy rich regions of Central Asia. Third, Pakistan might be able to get the consent of the regional states for developing comprehensive counter terrorism strategies. This seems to be a pre-condition for reaping the benefits of the $10-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas line project and the Central Asia South Asia (CASA-1000) transmission line might accrue.
In this context, the obnoxious harassment of Afghan refugees by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is not only against all International Conventions and Protocols on Refugees but also starkly contradict all norms of human dignity. In some places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, the government machinery has reportedly warned the refugees to relocate within 30 days or ‘face the music’, while in other places, the refugee families are fleeced by the law enforcement agencies. Detention of the Afghans at the slightest pretext has become a norm in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Undue body search of the Afghans on every thoroughfare has made the lives of common Afghans miserable. The Afghan refugee families are compelled to sell their assets at throwaway prices and leave in haste.
Pakistan’s very emphasis on only repatriation of the Afghan Refugees seems misplaced and irrational. The government of Pakistan must take into consideration the option of integrating the refugees. The forced repatriation of innocent refugees who have never been involved in any kind of terrorist activities in Pakistan while allowing leaders of Haqqani Network, Hizb and Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura to have safe havens in Pakistan might be taken as a signal by Afghanistan and other states of the region that Pakistan would continue with using proxies for foreign policy objectives. This might lead Pakistan to dangerous zones of regional and international isolation. While Pakistan is already reeling from the disastrous effects of losing trust among the comity of nations, this might prove straw that breaks the camel’s back.
It should also be kept in mind that successive regimes in Pakistan cannot exonerate themselves for what has been happening in Afghanistan for the last four decades. The Afghans were lured to leave their homeland in the last years of 1970s and the beginning of 1980s. Their camps were made breeding grounds for creating ‘mujahideen’. The Gulf States, the USA and Europe generously supported the process for turning ‘muhajireen’ (refugees) into ‘mujahideen’ (fighters). When the era of Mujahideen came to end, Pakistan ostensibly supported the emergence of the ‘Taliban’. The Afghan state was literally dissolved during the era of Taliban. When Taliban oligarchy was eliminated after 9/11, their leadership regrouped in different parts of Pakistan under the nose of the Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies.
The international humanitarian organizations kept on supporting refugees in Pakistan during all these years. The Afghan refugees themselves proved to be entrepreneurs developing their own businesses and outlets in Pakistan. They have been contributing to the vibrancy of the business markets across Pakistan. Sanity demands that governments of various provinces of Pakistan desist from the humiliation, ostracizing and forced repatriation of the Afghan refugees.
By Khadim Hussain
THE PASHTUN TIMES