Second phase

Published April 6, 2024

PAKISTAN has long been a sanctuary for Afghans, hosting nearly 4m refugees for over 40 years. The figures, while highlighting the country’s generosity, also underscore the significant challenges it faces regarding resource constraints, and, more importantly, security. These concerns are all legitimate, and so Islamabad’s desire to see undocumented Afghan citizens repatriated is not without merit. There have been reports, however, of a second phase of the repatriation drive to start this summer, this time aimed at documented refugees (Afghan Citizen Card holders). The Foreign Office has refrained from providing a concrete response, saying “several measures are under consideration and debate”. Meanwhile, in the backdrop of such reports, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan have urged Pakistan to avoid unilateral decisions on the matter. Their request, too, is not without merit. Such a process would have to be managed properly, through dialogue, and with adherence to international norms.

While the Taliban’s call for the respectful treatment of its citizens is justified, it is essential for them to acknowledge that these refugees are, fundamentally, their own citizens. Although many refugees have known only Pakistan as their home, Afghanistan is their country of origin, and they should be welcomed back appropriately. It is vital for the Taliban to remember their responsibility towards them. Kabul should ensure the rights of returning citizens and adopt a governance style that does not repeat past mistakes which led to mass displacement. Welcoming returnees in a manner that respects their rights is paramount for their successful reintegration into Afghan society. Moreover, there is a need to remind the international community of its commitments to the refugees. Many Western countries had pledged to accept Afghans who served them during the US ‘war on terror’. Fulfilling these promises is crucial. Many saw Pakistan as a pit stop after the Taliban rode back into Kabul, but even after more than two years, they are stuck in limbo. For Pakistan, addressing its valid concerns through a repatriation process that is voluntary, orderly, and humane is essential. The country’s decades-long generosity towards refugees is commendable, yet the road ahead demands careful planning, international cooperation, and a coordinated effort with the Afghan government. The role of organisations like the UNHCR in facilitating the process cannot be overstated. The objective should be a peaceful and stable future for all involved.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2024

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