In what could be a defining moment, Pakistan is confronted with a pressing issue: the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland. Despite its own challenges, including limited resources, political instability, and security concerns, Pakistan has borne the responsibility of hosting Afghan refugees for decades. Looking back at history, Afghanistan, Pakistan’s neighbor, has grappled with numerous hardships, from wars with Russia and the United States to internal turmoil. Throughout these tumultuous times, Pakistan has played a pivotal role in supporting its Muslim neighbor, offering refuge even though it hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on Refugees. But now, Pakistan is signaling a need for change.
This article explores the various aspects and perspectives surrounding the decision of Pakistan’s interim government. What is their stance, and what is the prevailing sentiment?
Whom Pakistan is Genuinely Repatriating
In an exclusive interview with Aaj TV’s Spotlight, Interim PM Kakar left no room for ambiguity: Pakistan is calling for the departure of foreign nationals from its soil.
It’s crucial to note that in discussions about repatriating Afghan refugees, security expert Salman Javed emphasised that while over 3 million legal immigrants will continue residing in Pakistan, approximately 1.4 million undocumented immigrants will be returned.
Understanding the Reasons Behind These Swift Developments
The question arises: why this sudden action? Two years have passed since the American withdrawal and the Taliban’s rise to power. Various arguments and viewpoints offer insight into the decision.
Pakistan’s primary concerns are now focused on ensuring peaceful elections and security. With elections scheduled for 2023, preparations are accelerated due to security apprehensions. A suicide bombing at a political event in July claimed 44 lives, with security analysts attributing it to the Taliban. Pakistan’s defense expert, Waqar Khan, suggests that the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) receives some support from the Taliban-led government.
Food security in Pakistan has become a pressing issue due to low agricultural productivity, unstable governmental structures, and adverse weather conditions. The 2022 floods impacted millions. Pakistan finds it increasingly challenging to meet the needs of its citizens, given rising inflation stemming from resource shortages. Hence, the burden of hosting Afghan refugees is no longer sustainable.
Another perspective suggests that Pakistan may be using the repatriation of Afghan refugees as a policy to divert attention from its current political climate. A single party has garnered significant support amid political unrest. Managing this situation and alleviating public pressure is driving the agenda to address illegal Afghan refugees.
In my view, Pakistan is a sovereign state with the autonomy to make its own decisions, but it cannot disengage from the globalized world. The international community’s concerns are valid, given Afghanistan’s severe food security issues and the devastating impact of consecutive earthquakes. Therefore, Pakistan should consider extending the deadline or facilitating the return of unauthorized immigrants.
Acknowledging Global Responsibilities
The international community should offer assistance during this critical time rather than resort to criticism. Currently, the UK has initiated special flights to transport 200 Afghans each week. However, thousands of applications for special immigration visas are pending, and the U.S. visa application process is painfully slow. Tragically, a 21-year-old Afghan girl, Maryam Saadat, took her own life due to the prolonged visa wait, lasting nearly two years. The world must recognize its humanitarian obligations and refrain from pressuring Pakistan, which is already grappling with multiple crises simultaneously.