KARACHI: Although the curfew ended at the Torkham border after Afghan and Pakistan forces clashed on Wednesday over construction of a gate, the Afghan refugees living in Karachi’s East district faced the wrath of religio-political parties regarding the validity of the Proof of Registration (POR) card the refugees hold and their subsequent repatriation.

In the forefront among them was the head of Sunni Tehreek, Sarwat Aijaz Qadri, who demanded on Thursday that the refugees, specifically living in Karachi’s East district, were repatriated to their country of origin.

What further bolsters the rising calls for repatriation is the arrest of six ‘Afghan spies’ in Quetta in May.

Read: 766 illegal Afghan refugees arrested in Karachi in past 15 months: report

“What makes the refugees vulnerable at this stage is the pending decision over the extension of the Proof of Registration card which will expire in December,” president of the Al-Asif Square Market association Haji Nazim Mir said.

Although six Afghan suspects were arrested in Gulshan-i-Iqbal near Disco Bakery some days ago, Mir insisted that unlike Gulshan the situation was far better in Al-Asif Square.

“Even though the clash between the armed forces occurred at Torkham, the refugees fear being isolated during random police checks, which is the case whenever the two countries clash.”

Around 500 shops are owned by Afghans in Al-Asif Square, making them up to 1,200 families.

An elder and Pakistan Peoples Party office-bearer in Al-Asif Square, Mohammad Rasool, said the papers were usually in order “because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) keeps a check on the registered ones and doesn’t take responsibility for the illegal or unregistered ones in our area”.

Asif Shahzad, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Karachi, gave a brief response when asked about the POR card extension: “The cabinet decision is still pending; we’ll inform the media as soon as we get any information about it.”

A senior police officer associated with the counterterrorism department (CTD) said the decision of the Pakistan Army to put up a gate as part of the border management effort was a good one and should be followed up till its completion.

The officer added: “Terrorists associated with the Al Qaeda in the Subcontinent usually use this route to enter and exit Pakistan; so it is imperative for us to properly manage security on the porous border we share with the Afghans.”

Speaking to Dawn, Dr Moonis Ahmar, professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi, said: “Whether it is the porous border that the two countries share at Torkham or the exodus that takes place as a result of lax security, Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan has always been inconsistent.”

He added that the proposal to create a fence around the Torkham border had been made several times since 1978 and that “it’s too late now”.

Explaining, he said there were other more accessible ways for those illegally crossing the border to find their way into Pakistan. “Chaman and Angoor Adda are known border crossing areas apart from Torkham. There are other paths, too, and it has been easy for illegal refugees to cross over,” he added.

At the same time, he said the demand for repatriation had always been there; especially during the times of conflict.

“In such a situation, those who illegally cross the border should be sent back and not the ones who are legally making a living in Pakistan. Securing the border is the need of the hour. Yet, it should be done by not fanning hostilities,” he added.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2016

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