Afghan Refugee Repatriation and Unattained Dreams

WAHEEDWhen our parents were whispering to each other with frightened faces, their faces signified terror. When you got out of the house, you could see every new place hit by a rocket. An air of fear and uncertainty had taken over all of Kabul. Nothing was certain, especially our future, life and death. Our parents had to make an ultimate decision for the safety of us, their children, to try and secure a promising future for them – and that was to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan. We ended up in Pakistan after several weeks of despair that we would ever reach there and gradually, we settled after undergoing many hardships.

I have finished my school in Peshawar and am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in one of Pakistan’s universities. Having grown up here, I consider this land as my own and the land of my ancestors. Never did I imagine the current situation, in which the political state of affairs would worsen and my friends would become my enemies; that Pakistanis and Afghans would start bullying each other on social media and a more racist and xenophobic environment would emerge.

Recently Pak-Afghan border conflict has not been the only the reason for escalating tension between the two countries; the start was when President Hamid Karzai blamed Pakistan for supporting Taliban sanctuaries. When President Ashraf Ghani came to the power his policy was to sit down with the neighbouring factions and try to resolve the issues as regards to terrorism. The key to this foreign policy was the Chief of Army Staff, who had the authority to enforce compliance. President Ghani was disappointed by the dual politics, for good and bad Taliban, of Pakistani officials; frustrated, he changed tactics and tried to think of alternatives.

The awful tragedy at the army public school happened, the media portrayed Afghans in such a negative light that things could only get worse; hatred and tension grew on social media in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, media broadcast ‘suicide bomber’ interviews with those who were children in and had belonged to Pakistan just few years before.

 Last year the Pakistan Foreign Affairs minister, Sartaj Aziz, made a statement in the US saying that we have been giving medical support to Taliban for a long time and that the Pakistani authorities provided shelter for the Taliban. This year Mullah Mansoor, a commander of Taliban, was killed by a US drone strike near the Pakistan border. That he was in possession of a Pakistani passport, issued few years ago by the Pakistani authorities, only served to increase the tension.

Pakistan always threatens to withdraw trade routes for Afghanistan, important because Afghanistan does not have port for transit trade. But when the port at Chabahar in Iran opened a route for international trade between Afghanistan and India, its gave more power to Afghanistan because Pakistan’s relationship with its three neighbours, except China, are currently not good.

Afghan refugees to Pakistan were kept in camps and used in the Jihad against Russia in the 1980s. Aid from around the world poured in to the camps but much of it was looted before it reached the refugees. Although, according to Constitution of Pakistan foreign citizenship act 1951, those born in Pakistan would become a Pakistani national, Afghans were never allowed or approved Pakistani naturalisation, nor were they allowed the use of banking facilities, to buy property or even a car.

They were not entitled to free education or any social benefits; everything had to be done by themselves, for themselves. The only thing allowed, was to pay rent and stay in the country. Afghans started building in Pakistan. They built in those areas where no other people would go, because they didn’t have enough money to rent a house in any decent areas.

The government of Pakistan is giving Afghans 6 months for repatriation, until 31 December 2016, otherwise after that, they will not be allowed to live here. The local police have started harassing Afghans to leave; they snatch money from those who have valid Afghan citizen cards. Nobody stood up for the rights of the Afghan refugees, not even the people of Peshawar, who are Pukhtuns and therefore Afghans, but still did not resist for their brothers.

However, a war started on social media. Racist comments and calling Afghans traitors; saying that we fed you for three decades. They don’t think for one second that our brothers and fathers left us alone and went to Europe, while many here have striven to feed us. Today KP province alone receives millions of dollars in remittance from Afghan nationals in Europe who send to their families. Pakistani authorities claimed that a few thousands of Afghans received Pakistani national identity cards, however this was for survival, for running businesses and for transactions where you need to have a legal status. If Europe gives free education, monthly stipends, social benefits, accommodation and rights to vote to refugees, why can’t Pakistan? Still Afghans do not need anything free, they only need legal status. During 2008, with help of UNHCR, the Pakistani Government Issue registered Afghans and it is due to this that Afghans can move legally and are permitted to take a house for rent, buy a mobile SIM card and have access to government hospitals.

Many Pakistanis think Afghanistan is getting closer to India and therefore they are confronting with Pakistan. Actually, when Pakistan says long live the Pak/China friendship, if they can get close to one another, why cannot Afghanistan and India? When some of the people think India is using Afghans against Pakistan and that India is our enemy, why do they allow their celebrities to work in ‘Bollywood’? If a Pakistani Major General’s niece, Mawra Hocane, can work in Bollywood, why can’t Pakistan, as a state build a good relationship with India? Pakistan and India have gone through military war three times and Afghanistan has remained neutral in these wars.

In this summer of 2016, Afghan refugees are going back to their homeland after 30 years. Some of them have shelter there, some of them are rebuilding, some of them are stressed because they are homeless. There is a sense of urgency and people are very tense. Furthermore, it is a huge migration wherein 3 million people will relocate and it will take many years to settle down. How many thousands of pupils will shift from one education system to another? From one society to another? It’s not going to be an easy job for them to settle down again. They have been struggling for decades but now the Pakistani government announces it will seize any of their property, although built by the refugees, if any Pakistani buys from them. We Muslims follow neither democracy nor Islam because democracy tells us that nobody can forcefully expel refugees, and Islam tells us about brotherhood and no borders, (like Europe Schengen). Afghan refugees are in a highly critical situation. They must evacuate which means they are selling their belongings and property very cheaply and the Pakistani people demand those very low prices. People have spent millions to build houses and those who have invested millions in Pakistan are very tense because their money is stuck. No-one is giving them money easily because they know market situation is getting worse. Moreover, Afghan millionaires earn money in Afghanistan and send it to their families back in Pakistan. If the Afghanistan security and health issues were resolved, no Afghan would live here in Pakistan, but due to security and poor health facilities, many Afghans did not go back. Some young Afghans, many born here in Pakistan, are obsessed with continuing to live here; one Afghan said “Whenever I used to think that I will go back, my eyes got tears and I get frozen”; others are angry and say they can’t tolerate the hate and racism.

They love Peshawar no matter what happened and wish Peshawar to develop more. I have close friends and teachers with whom I will interact for as long as I live. We are bound with strong chains but many of our youth are misguided and are spreading hate on social media. I hope the situation improves and Afghan refugees stay longer in Pakistan, it seems difficult for Afghans to relocate again, rebuild again. On other hand Khyber Pukhtonkhawa province will face enormous economic instability due to the massive migration. It seems difficult for Afghan refugees to live any longer in Pakistan because of the disrespect shown them and the harassment they receive. Everyday thousands of families are going back. The UNHCR gives 400$ to Afghan refugee families that were registered. Afghan’s youth understand the importance of their own country and they are struggling for making peace and a new Afghanistan. What makes me most worried for the Afghans is their education system. Afghan children are taught English and Urdu subjects in Pakistan, whereas in Afghanistan most of the subjects are taught in either Pashto or Dari; it is certain to have a bad impact on them. Being an educationist and Public Policy Student, I think the Afghan government should take proper measures in order to tackle this problem, otherwise thousands of pupils’ futures are at risk.

There were so many dreams for those who had planned for the future and suddenly, this huge migration is taking place. Relationships, friends, relatives, houses and business are in chaos and it’s tearing apart Afghans, but nobody seems to even care. Afghans have thousands of years of history yet here, today, they are degraded everywhere because they are weak. We must believe that everything happens for a good reason and not lose hope, because history repeats itself and one day Afghans will hopefully rise again.

Writer: Waheed Ullah Aziz

The writer is a master student in Peshawar University. He can be reached at

waheedullah99@ymail.com

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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