APPROXIMATELY five million refugees had come to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan adopted a supportive policy towards Afghanistan, set up refugee camps for those coming in, and facilitated them in all possible ways. Unfortunately, its efforts to restrict them to the refugee camps failed miserably.
As the war stretched out to more than nine years, these refugees left the camps and spread across the country, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Their numbers kept increasing and they ultimately became a social, political and economic burden. Pakistan’s policies towards the Afghan refugees remained optimistic initially, but later took a turn when terrorist activities increased inside Pakistan. A paradigm shift in Afghan policy resulted, among other things, in Pakistan’s decision to send the refugees back. These policies proved beneficial, and the menace of terrorism was controlled to a large extent.
With the Taliban now making advances inside Afghanistan, Pakistan may see a great influx of refugees yet again. An estimated three million Afghan refugees are already in Pakistan, and the country cannot handle any more of them.
A peaceful and politically stable Afghanistan is what suits Pakistan and that is what the government wants. Already overly populated and economically weak, Pakistan cannot bear the burden of more refugees as they settle down permanently and never return to the home country.
In fact, they make things worse by getting involved in criminal activities due to their financial constraints, and harm the social fabric in return.
Tariq Mahmood Khan
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2021