The winding down of the foreign ‘occupation’ of Afghanistan is in its ‘death throes’ and it is clearly obvious that there have been very little, if any, actual improvements in the life of ‘ordinary’ Afghans and equally obvious that the country is teetering on the edge of falling down a bottomless ‘sink hole’. The big question being – ‘How much of Pakistan will go with it?’ Those not familiar with the ongoing Afghan debacle – this means most Pakistanis – may not understand why the explosion of the Afghan powder keg should affect Pakistan at all. But, when it blows, as it inevitably will at some point between its forthcoming Presidential elections in April and, according to Afghan analysts, 2017, each country sharing a border with it will to some extent, blow too. That President Karzai appears intent on not signing any further troop agreements with America before his term expires once and for all, simply adds to the simmering mess.
Here in Pakistan, when its northern neighbour goes bang many things will, in simultaneous combustion, hit the fan too. As the first blow, a massive influx of Afghan refugees pouring in to Peshawar and Quetta will come about. And then it will trickle, despite any preventative measures, slowly but surely throughout the rest of the country too as, with 1.3 million legal and an estimated 1.5 million at least, illegal Afghans, still remaining here in the wake of the massive influx of the early 1980’s. The new wave will, where possible, naturally join established relatives where and when they can. To further complicate this, many once upon a time Afghan refugees who chose, or were forced to, repatriate to their homeland have, with foresight, maintained a foothold in both countries ever since then.
Aside from a rise in property rentals – they went through the roof in Peshawar in the 1980’s. There will be even more pressure on the economic and food security fronts than Pakistan is currently facing, plus, if the anticipated 3 – 5 million refugee influx becomes a harsh reality then a high percentage of them, women and children aside of course, will be men, of all ages, who have never had the opportunity to live in peace and do not know how. They live by the gun and, largely minus education, violent survival is all they know.
Confining refugees in camps does not - and never really has - prevented their ‘modus operandi’ from affecting the indigenous population of the area concerned. The scenario is further complicated by the fact that many of these men, depending on age, have previously lived in Pakistan as refugees or were actually born here. They are Afghans first and foremost remember and do not have any rights other than the human right of refugee status under which, it is hoped, they can, at the very least, be provided with the basic requirements necessary for survival; until, as it eventually will, the situation in Afghanistan settles enough for them to return and, once more, attempt to pick up the pieces of lives that have already been shattered beyond recognition although – yet again – this may take very many years.
Indications are that, completely irrespective of which presidential candidate comes out on top of the dung heap of the current Afghan political scene, once the last of the foreign occupation forces departs, the Taliban, in their many forms and manifestations, will come out in to the open to publicly claim areas that they already, be it quietly or glossed over, run. This, in real terms, means that the entire south of the country, the northern regions radiating out from Kunduz and the crucial, for Pakistan, long eastern border, will be openly Taliban. And, as Pakistan already knows to its cost in lives, livelihoods and money, the Durand line is not, and never has been, recognized by either the Pakistani or Afghan taliban or by most other Afghans who still believe that their country rightfully extends down to Attock and Multan.
Whether or not Pakistan agrees, as is currently under debate, to hold ‘Peace talks’ with Pakistan taliban is likely, after Afghanistan goes boom, to be nothing more than a complete waste of time. This viewpoint is strengthened by the powerful backing of their already interlinked compatriots across the, nonexistent border, their demands, their bravado and their desire for power. All this will, obviously, increase manifold. Pakistan is liable to be embroiled in a civil war it really hasn’t done very much to prevent. Quite the opposite in fact.
The region currently known as ‘The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ has, right back to the 13th Century, been a hotbed of intrigue and a haven for elements classed as ‘undesirable’ elsewhere. And, down the centuries since then, the only period of relative peace, calm, forward development and female liberation was during the 40 year rule of King Zahir Shah, from 1933 to 1973 when he was overthrown by Daoud Khan, plunging first the country and then, after the Soviet invasion on Christmas Eve 1979, the entire region in to an upheaval it is still going through. In the not too distant future, the unrest thanks to the machinations of a mere handful of greedy, avaricious, drug dealing ‘Warlords’ is more than likely to return.
These few men, nothing more than murderous bandits gowned in increasingly transparent guise, will, yet again, be responsible for the continued misery of an oft persecuted people who will have to flee for their very lives, unfortunately and it is not their fault, bringing chaos to Pakistan in their wake.
Pakistan and Pakistanis must be prepared.
The writer has authored two books titled The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War, The Parwan Wind - Dust Motes and lives in Bhurban.