After the Afghan revolution, hundreds of thousands of Afghan families fled the war in Afghanistan and made Pakistan their permanent residence. History has repeated again and Kabul fell back into the hands of Taliban on August 15, 2021.
Gull is one amongst the affected families entering Pakistan. Gull crossed into Pakistan with his wife and five children, as well as the wives of his brothers and their three children. There, he received help from a man named Bakhtiyar, the owner of a motorcycle-tyre showroom. Gull explained that the women brought with them jewelry and fabrics which the family intends to sell to make ends meet in Pakistan.
“Now I will be leaving for Balochistan’s capital Quetta and subsequently for Karachi where I am intending to stay at my daughter’s home, who lives with her husband there,” explained Gull as he took a rest with his family from the scorching heat, inside the showroom.
Bakhtiyar helped Gull by arranging a motor vehicle that took Gull’s family to Quetta. “The Pashtun family arrived here in despair, looking for safety. I provided the family with food and shelter,” Bakhtiyar told The Friday Times.
Some of experts believe that the Afghan refugees are funded by the Pakistani government. However revenue earned by these Afghan businessmen is given to Pakistan which directly gives a boost to the Pakistani economy.
Hamayun Khan one of the economic experts in Quetta is of the view that though Pakistan blames the Afghan refugees to be an economic and social burden over the society, at the same time the country is not ready to repatriate the Afghans because here the Taliban and rest of the militants live in safe homes who are a cause of disturbance in Afghanistan.
Earlier the Pakistani court ordered the auction of the five properties owned by the former Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Karachi, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
Hamayun is of the view that this is the reason that the more accomplished businessmen amongst the Afghan refugees who are residing in Pakistan, were offered the nationality status by the previous premier Imran Khan as they injected great economic input to Pakistan’s treasury and helped boost-up business in the country. “The real reason was, the revenue drain to Afghanistan, which could give a tough time to Pakistani economy if the Afghans take away their investments and repatriate to Afghanistan.”
On the other hand the Balochistan National Party chief, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, a sitting parliament member of Pakistan and the PM’s ally in the center is a strong critic of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Mengal considers the Afghan Refugees a demographic disturbance among the Pashtun and Baloch communities who have been in line to rule the Baloch province. The refugees are seen as a means of de-escalating their position in the political process and a thorn in the long-standing conflict in Pakistan.
In fact, Mengal’s political party had warned Imran Khan's government about giving nationality rights to the Afghan refugees.
Abdul Raheem Ziaratwal, General Secretary PK-MAP says that “The Afghans living in Pakistan are 1.4 million as mentioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they’re up to 3 lac in Balochistan and all of them have refugees cards, who are unable to cast their vote. The Baloch political parties are cashing in for a mere ethnic card to ignore the Pashtuns who were living on their motherland even before the creation of Pakistan.”
"We have the 1951 Convention on the status and human rights of refugees, which is yet to be ratified by the Pakistani state, though, the same Afghan Refugees have been awarded nationalities even in the Western countries where they’re considered a hardworking lot who have brought there the culture, skills, daily wage work and businessmen. Pakistan can go the same way because those young people who’ve grown up in Pakistan are a vibrant force, we can settle them for services, instead of keeping them in limbo for 4 decades," he added.
The Anjuman-e-Tajaran Balochistan official Haji Allah Dad Tareen confirmed that the Afghan refugees in different businesses have their own role and make big contributions to the economy of Pakistan. "We did not have much economic stability in Quetta before the Afghan Civil War when the people came here, they had lands, agriculture, livestock back at home which were all sold and they invested their money in Pakistan to make a living. This is how the past forty years passed and their young generation belongs to Pakistan, completely. They were born here, they’ve grown up and got educated and completely assimilated in the society just like other locals have."
"Our people did not know new skills, as we were ruled by the British, who demotivated the then Indian by giving them only low-rank jobs of becoming factory workers because their aim was to make people idle and non-productive, while also keeping factories running for their foreign businesses. They did not want any indigenous people to own their own business and even though the British left, their rules stayed with the law. The Afghans are sturdy people and never shied away from physical labour, so we were able to fit in all sorts of jobs," explained Allah Dad.
This is the reason that 1.4 million registered and a total of approximately 2 million refugees see their host country as their homeland because most of them are born and raised in Pakistan. They still believe that the current premiere will take forward the decision of granting the refugees Pakistani citizenship as the ex-prime minister Imran Khan had pledged last year.
On the other hand, a small number of Afghan refugees also have records of attempting criminal activities. Jawad Haider, a Station House Officer (SHO) Gualmandi Quetta, is of the view, that bike snatching and non-citizens carry out robberies. Some have been given little punishments under legal sections and others on surveillance who are yet to evolve.
They are served legal notices under court procedures and provided equal constitutional rights to hire defense advocates. Seemingly, the refugees violating the law would never do so, if they were legally eligible for jobs and not sent away just by virtue of being Afghan when they applied for employment opportunities.
Moniza Kakar, a lawyer assisting Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, has shared evidence on Twitter of police binding children with rope, imprisoning them for months, and arresting even those who hold proper documentation.
Interviewed on a telephonic call, Kakar said the arrests have not stopped people from coming. “More and more I see human rights defenders, people coming in for business, and a lot of young girls. Since the Taliban have banned education, they put their heads in my lap and weep,” she said, adding that most people cross simply because they have no other choice.
More than 600,000 Afghans have fled to neighbouring Pakistan since the Taliban came to power in August 2021, bringing the number of Afghan refugees in the country to 3.7 million, only 1.32 million of whom are registered with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
The early wave of Afghan refugees started migrating to Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War in the late 1970s. By the end of 2001, the Ministry of State and Frontier Regions Pakistan counted four million unregistered Afghan refugees who had settled in Pakistan. Most have returned to their homeland since 2002. The reports published by United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) in February 2017 said that about 1.3 million registered Afghans are still living in Pakistan and 0.8m have registration cards.
Qaiser Afridi spokesperson United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees says, “Last August, UNHCR raised the cash grants it offers to those who agree to voluntarily repatriate to Afghanistan from $250 to $375, or $700 per family, but return numbers have remained relatively small – a little over 6,000 in total in 2022.
“I have issued instructions today that Afghan refugees who are registered can open bank accounts and from now onwards they can participate in the formal economy of the country,” Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted in his tenure (@ImranKhanPTI).
“This should have been done a long time ago,” he said.
"Local laws prevent refugees from conducting transactions through Pakistani banks, forcing Afghans to rely on informal channels and local partners to conduct business and trade-related activities to feed their families. The UNHCR welcomed the then premiere’s announcement. The current economic drain of Afghan refugees cannot be estimated as they have yet started managing their legal account in Pakistani banks. There may be certain calculations in the future," added Qaiser.
Due to the lack of protection available to returnees in Afghanistan, the repatriation program that emerged from a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Afghanistan, was initiated in 2003 and reaffirmed in July 2019. “We are glad to hear that the previous Pakistani PM agrees to provide National Identity Cards to the Afghan refugees and access to Pakistani banks and formal economy but that yet does not seem practical on the ground to provide citizenship to Afghan refugees,” said Qaiser.
There is hope that the current peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States would pave the way for the Afghan government to put an end to the post-9/11 conflict. And peace at home would surely be a way for these Afghan Refugees to go home and repatriate to Afghanistan. They will be taking all their belongings and investments back to the motherland, which can be a new start of stability for the ethnic group.