Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Are Bound to Go Through Difficult Times

Hasht-E Subh Initially, this migration was encouraged by jihadist groups, the Pakistani government, and Western projects that supported jihad. Significant financial aid was provided to Pakistan by countries opposing the Soviet Union, in order to accommodate the influx of immigrants. Consequently, the refugee camps transformed into propaganda and recruitment centers. A thriving trade emerged, where items ranging from weapons and equipment to education and religious institutions were distributed generously. Within Pakistan, influential factions established their own offices, issued membership cards, and provided financial support and shelter to immigrants, mobilizing the youth for the “holy war.” Life for the majority of these immigrants was arduous during those times. While most foreign aid was directed towards warfare and recruitment, there were no reports of stringent border control, visa sales, or the restrictions that exist today. People moved freely across both sides of the Durand Line.

Following the collapse of President Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government, another wave of Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan. Support projects dwindled, but there were still relatively few restrictions on the influx of refugees. This group, consisting mainly of urban dwellers who had fled their cities, faced significant challenges in the overcrowded camps with minimal facilities. As a result, many sought to settle in cities, struggling greatly to meet basic necessities due to limited employment opportunities and the cessation of global support.

Over the course of the last two decades of the 20th century, a significant number of Afghans remained in Pakistan. Some integrated into Pakistani society, while others adapted to the harsh conditions of living in camps and the outskirts of cities. However, the current circumstances have become increasingly difficult for those who continue to immigrate to Pakistan. The majority of Afghans who fled the country after the fall of the government and the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 were either anti-Taliban or resided in areas under non-Taliban administration. Consequently, the Pakistani government and its supporters, who view the Taliban as allies and non-Taliban entities as enemies, are unwelcoming towards these recent immigrants, taking every opportunity to harass them.

From the moment Afghans step foot into Pakistan until they leave, they endure humiliation, coercion, extortion, and harassment. Many refugees face financial and psychological pressure while navigating the challenges of visa extensions, finding shelter, and securing employment. In the final years of the Afghan republic, tensions escalated between politicians and citizens of both countries in the virtual space and media, primarily due to Pakistan’s support for the Taliban group. These tensions reached their peak during the fall of Kabul, with widespread dissemination of Taliban propaganda within Pakistani society. Images and videos were circulated, and Pakistan openly expressed humiliating sentiments regarding Afghanistan’s defeat and its own perceived victory.

In such a toxic and politicized environment, tens of thousands of people have fled the country in large numbers, seeking refuge in Pakistan. The numbers have been increasing by the thousands each month. This mass exodus has occurred amid an unprecedented economic crisis and political tensions within Pakistan. These tensions have resulted in Pakistani protesters attacking security checkpoints and the residences of military officials. In recent months, some Pakistani politicians have accused Afghan immigrants of joining these protesters. Following the crackdown on supporters of Imran Khan, there has been a surge in collective arrests and imprisonment of immigrants. As a result, Pakistani government officials have openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the presence of Afghans.

Governor of Balochistan, Abdul Wali Khan Kakar, recently highlighted the repercussions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. He stated that schools, hospitals, markets, farms, and villages in various areas of Pakistan, especially Pashtun regions, have suffered significant damage due to the influx of Afghans over the past fourteen decades. According to Kakar, mafia activities, massacres, and conflicts in tribal areas have all been brought into Pakistan by Afghan immigrants. He seems to view the jihadist project, which has received support and financing from Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in collaboration with international allies, as part of the problems associated with Afghan refugees. Furthermore, he emphasized that the lives, businesses, and economy of Pakistanis, particularly in Balochistan, have been severely impacted by the Afghan exodus.

While Kakar accurately acknowledges the ongoing problems in Pakistan and expresses concerns about labor migration and the departure of skilled professionals, he fails to attribute these issues to the government’s flawed policies and the actions of the country’s military. Instead, he places the blame solely on Afghan migration and the war in Afghanistan. While it cannot be denied that there is a connection between the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s current challenges, it is also incorrect for Pakistani authorities to portray themselves as mere victims. Pakistan’s involvement in trading and supporting the war in Afghanistan, the facilitation of terrorism through training and recruitment, and the encouragement of Afghans to leave their country during the Soviet invasion years through media channels and affiliated groups have hindered the Afghan people’s ability to establish a stable government. Consequently, Pakistan itself has been thrust into a situation where it must grapple with a multitude of crises.

In recent years, the outflow of Pakistani youth has also become a significant humanitarian crisis. Governor Kakar highlights a sharp increase in the number of Pakistani refugees losing their lives in the Mediterranean waters, as hundreds of people perish while attempting to reach Western countries. He attributes these tragic deaths and migrations to the situation in Afghanistan and the influx of immigrants into Pakistan. Furthermore, Kakar points out that hundreds of thousands of doctors, engineers, and educated individuals have left Pakistan. The Governor of Balochistan also attributes the decline in services and the lack of access to electricity and gas to the presence of immigrants.

According to Governor Kakar, a significant number of Afghans are residing in Pakistan without proper registration, which poses challenges for Pakistani departments in planning and delivering services. During his speech, he specifically mentioned a region called Qeshlaq in Balochistan, where the official documents report a population of 200,000. However, in reality, the population exceeds three times that number, with the majority consisting of undocumented Afghan residents (600,000). Governor Kakar noted that areas like Qeshlaq experience high crime rates, and the police struggle to maintain control over the population.

While acknowledging the cultural and ethnic commonalities between immigrants and residents on both sides of the Durand Line, Governor Kakar emphasized that even brothers have separate rooms when they return home. He urged the residents of Balochistan not to remain silent and to stand up for their rights. He emphasized that although Afghans are Pashtun, Baloch, Uzbek, Hazara, Tajik, and considered as our brothers, it is important to recognize who has impacted our lives. Kakar also attributed numerous deadly crimes in Balochistan to Afghan immigrants, citing a period a few years ago when 400 people were beheaded within two months.

However, it is evident that not all people in Pakistan agree with the statements made by the high-ranking government official from one of the states. Millions of Pakistani protesters condemn the country’s army and ISI, loudly chanting that “the army is behind terrorism.” The general behavior of the Pakistani people towards immigrants remains friendly and sympathetic. Nevertheless, the official propaganda disseminated by the government and statements made from authoritative platforms about the root causes of Pakistan’s numerous problems do have an impact on public opinion. If this continues, it will further complicate the situation for Afghan immigrants, who are already victims of proxy wars and intelligence games, much like the people of Pakistan. With worsening economic and political conditions in Pakistan, millions of Afghan refugees who sought sanctuary there due to poverty, terrorism, and Taliban oppression will face significant hardships. The living conditions of immigrants in Iran are also a cause for concern. To address these issues, concerted collective efforts are needed to combat terrorism and establish a responsible government, as there seems to be no alternative solution.

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