Raids against Afghans

Published January 2, 2015
In this photograph, Afghan trash collectors search for recyclable items at a garbage dump in Karachi. — AFP/File
In this photograph, Afghan trash collectors search for recyclable items at a garbage dump in Karachi. — AFP/File

A RECENT feature in this paper on security action against Afghans in this country paints a depressing picture of the difficulties and everyday challenges faced by the community, against the backdrop of a much-publicised ‘crackdown’ on those Afghans living illegally in Pakistan.

In fact, it has come to the point where even uttering the word ‘Afghan’ in today’s insecure environment can give rise to dark labels of suspicion being instantaneously attached to the unfortunate community in the country.

The popular perception has been strengthened over time by frequent raids in ‘Afghan areas’ in the wake of a security threat or an attack by militants. This is the formula that has been in practice in Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi as well as in some smaller towns.

One consequent impression of the police fixation on rounding up Afghans is that this is all the security agencies are capable of doing: cracking down on the community and hoping to find a link with some terror operators or their facilitators.

Also read: No involuntary repatriation of Afghans

The impression, unfortunately, holds despite all the talk about the prime minster and other government functionaries supporting a non-discriminatory and comprehensive purging of militants.

The security campaign remains focused on stereotypes, which are reinforced by unqualified, sometimes even irresponsible statements that have found their way into the discussion in the wake of the Peshawar school tragedy.

On Thursday, for instance, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak attached much stress to the need for sending the Afghan refugees back home, apparently to overcome the menace of terrorism in the country.

To prevent it from becoming a witch-hunt against the Afghans or one particular ethnic group, our officials need to be a little more elaborate and a lot more careful in what they are saying.

Since this factor is often missing the message conveyed is that all Afghans are a security risk to Pakistan, and that if Pakistan could somehow get rid of these refugees, its militancy problem would be as good as resolved. Both assumptions are dangerous — for those who make them and those against whom these are made.

A more sensible approach would be to solicit the help of members of the community that has to be surveyed for any disturbing elements present within, and use the intelligence thus gathered to weed out the unwanted. This may be a more time-consuming exercise but is perhaps the most effective and safest.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2015

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