June 20th 2016, was the World Refugee Day, where Pakistan, a country that in the past had been taking credit for hosting one of the biggest refugee populations for several years, decided to celebrate the day in a different fashion. The government of Pakistan decided to publicly and officially own the campaign of hatred, harassment and demonization against Afghan refugees- launched by circles connected with the security establishment of the country. The irony is that the aforementioned hate campaign reached the highest pitch at a day ( June 21 ) when Mr. Philippo Grandy, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, landed in Islamabad to express solidarity and support for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Mr. Sartaj Aziz, PM’s advisor on foreign affairs, a man known for choosing his words carefully, threw caution to winds and claimed that the refugee camps have become “a safe haven for terrorists “. A few months back Mr. Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister in the province of Balochistan and a known mouthpiece of the deep state had threatened to throw Afghan refugees out by force. Although Pakistani media has been conservative in carrying reports about harassment and persecution of Afghan refugees, but if one puts together the bits and pieces published in the print media and broadcasted in the electronic media, it paints a horrific picture of repression and demonization.
Interestingly the fascist like campaign against Afghan refugees has never bothered to present any facts, figures and evidence about involvement of refugees in terrorist acts. No community in the world can claim to be totally crime free. Afghan refugees can’t be an exception to that. But if historical experience of the last few decades is anything to go by Afghan refugees have been by and large a peace loving community and they have a very strong motive for that. They have been keeping their families here to save their near and dear ones away from military conflict. Why would they indulge in activities which could threaten the security of their own families here? Unfortunately beating of war drums has seriously polluted the atmosphere. Particularly the recent clashes at Torkham between the security forces of the two countries were used to create hysteria and hatred that makes facts and evidence irrelevant.
Why have the Pakistani state authorities chosen to hound Afghan refugees at this point in time? Pakistani crack down on Afghan refugees is clearly linked with summer offensive of Taliban in Afghanistan. It is synchronized with military onslaught of Taliban to convince Afghans and the world that the Afghan republic which is recognized as legitimate government of Afghanistan has failed to protect Afghan citizens inside and outside their country. Sealing of Torkham was yet another step to reinforce this argument. Pakistani mentors of Afghan Taliban are going overboard to ensure the success of their protégés in the ongoing conflict. They are not shy of using unilateral coercion in favor of Taliban. On June 30 the one year extension in the stay of Afghan refugees will expire. The stay has not been further extended so far despite the knowledge that this is not the most opportune time for their repatriation in bulk. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of the flood of refugee population entering back an unstable Afghanistan. It can be quite effective in reinforcing Taliban military offensive for creating chaos in Afghanistan. Interestingly those who seems to be in a great hurry for the repatriation of refugees show no urgency for dismantling Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan which are being actively used for launching war in Afghanistan. Similarly the same Pakistani state functionaries who have been pontificating to the world for decades about the impossibility of imposing hegemony over Afghans by force hope to achieve hegemonic status by using military and political coercion.
Credit for the prolonged peaceful stay of Afghan refugees goes to the people of Pakistan who have shown great generosity in helping their brethren who had to leave their homes in their own country because of war which was imposed on them. Majority of Afghan refugees stayed in Pashtun belt of Pakistan where there was a natural sympathy for them for historical and cultural reasons. But Pakistani state authorities have been consistently trampling upon the interests of refugees for implementing their dubious agendas. Pakistan did not accede to Geneva Conventions on Refugees ( 1951) neither it signed the 1967 Protocol. On top of this ,Pakistan doesn’t have any national law to deal with refugees. This total legal vacuum was deliberately prolonged so that there is no hindrance in using or misusing the refugee issue at will. The first brazen exploitation was to use international aid for refugees to transform ‘ Muhajireen ‘ ( refugees) into ‘ Mujahideen ‘ ( Holy Worriers) in 1980s. This was in total violation of International Humanitarian Laws. International community was complicit as western powers were also obsessed with fighting against communism and for them everything was fair in the war. But the saddest part of it was that it gave license to Pakistani security establishment to continuously use Afghan refugees as cannon fodder for its adventures in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents were the biggest beneficiary of this policy. The myth that Taliban could not be defeated in Afghanistan came into being because of Taliban’s unlimited access to refugee camps in Pakistan for recruiting fresh fighters. They were defeated on daily basis in Afghanistan with huge casualties but the myth of their invincibility survived thanks to their safe heavens and huge pool of recruitment in Pakistan. And all of this has been possible as Pakistan is not bound by any national or international legal regime for dealing with refugees.
Bashing of Afghan refugees can have serious repercussions for the internal political situation of Pakistan. The ruthless crack down and hate campaign of Punjabi dominated security establishment and its cheer leaders in the media can create reaction among all peace loving Pakistani democrats in general and among Pashtuns in particular. A glance over bitter polemics on social media in this regard makes it clear. Writing under the title of ‘ A Pakhtun view’ in a letter to editor in yesterday’s daily Dawn Mr. Riaz Daavi Advocate from Mardan has nailed it : “ States may have their own interests, but the Pakhtuns on both sides are attached to each other. Indeed we are living in two different countries but still we cry and weep for each other...”