Since the abrupt Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan has served as a haven for Afghan citizens forced to flee their country. The current situation is marked by instability, pervasive violence, and a dire humanitarian crisis. Notably, Pakistan’s refugee policy has evolved, especially in light of recent events.
Nearly 400,000 Afghans have illegally crossed into Pakistan since the Afghan Taliban’s resurgence in August 2021, exacerbating the problem. Additionally, around 700,000 Afghan nationals have been discovered living clandestinely in Pakistan without proper legal permission. In the protracted Afghan conflict marked by death, destruction, and displacement, security and humanitarian considerations are intertwined. Pakistan has made a significant policy change, signalling its intent to repatriate approximately 1.4 million Afghan refugees who settled within its borders without permission.
Pakistan has extended diplomatic support to the new Afghan government, promoting regional stability and reconciliation. Providing shelter, food, and hope to refugees despite resource shortages has also been part of Pakistan’s long-standing ethos.
However, the need to crack down on the high number of undocumented Afghan residents is evident. Many of these individuals engage in criminal activities, contributing to rising crime rates, including rape, kidnapping, and violence.
The situation is further complicated by criminal groups with Afghan ties recruiting individuals to fight for land-grabbing factions, often resulting in ruthless assassinations. The difficulty in obtaining official visas and fear of human rights violations by the Taliban regime deter many Afghan nationals from returning home.
To address this conundrum, Kabul and Islamabad must convene a round-table discussion. Commitment to eradicating terrorism and protecting their citizens can lead to a mutually beneficial solution. The turbulent aftermath of a prolonged civil war continues to affect government agencies and civilians. Resolving Pakistan’s Afghan refugee challenge requires a nuanced approach that respects human rights while safeguarding national interests and security. Policymakers must navigate these complex waters, balancing historical precedents with contemporary realities.
–Nadir Ali is a PRO at Safe City Islamabad. He tweets at @hafiznadirali7 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org