No Home For The Afghan Refugees
All her ambitions lashing down, she wished to go abroad on scholarship for higher studies but thinking that she was a Pakistani citizen, she knew that she was entitled to no opportunities, no civic rights provision, and bound to limited mobility in the remote cliffs of Quetta.
After struggling through two academic years she pursued her final studies of masters and will be handed-over her fine-arts degree in the fall of 2020. Later on, she plans to get a job and look after her family, her father is getting weaker, and yet there seems no other source of income to carry out their routinely needs.
Madia Ali, 21, is very stressed about continuing her higher studies. Master’s degree alone took so long in Pakistan, to make the registration possible. It is this third decade of living in Pakistan but yet, the deprivation of all civic rights and citizenship, labelling them as mere, Afghan refugees. She was forced to go to the Afghan Consulate for an official NOC, recognising her as a refugee.
She expressed in her voice heavy with despair,
“I will not be able to get my post-graduation degree unless my family seeks registration of Pakistani citizenship. During my education, even after being good with my grades, just the fact that I was not registered as a Pakistani citizen, I was not eligible for the scholarships.”
Living in a small rented flat in Mari Abad, Quetta, she belongs to the Hazara community that has a three-decade-long history of settlement in a corner mountainous area of Quetta city, constituting the quarter-half of the total residential population.
“It was very difficult to go through the misery that the system keeps us in, every day. After completion of my Bachelors degree, I wanted to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Balochistan, where I was rejected just because I am an Afghan.”
Though the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed during his oath ceremony in Kabul to call the Afghan Refugees back from Pakistan and Iran for a peaceful Afghanistan.
President Ghani had earlier asked Pakistan the status of Afghan Refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees make sure they return back home. After the Army Public School attack, the launch of the National Action Plan caused thousands of Afghans to be arrested in different parts of Pakistan.
Some of the experts believe that the Afghan refugees are cashed by the Pakistani government. While the revenue these Afghan businessmen have given to Pakistan and have owned, directly gives a boost to the Pakistani economy.
Zaman Hamzoli one of the economic experts in Quetta is of the view that though Pakistan blames the Afghan refugees to be an economic and social burden over the society, at the same time the country is not ready to repatriate the Afghans because here the Taliban and rest of the militants live in safe homes who are a cause of disturbance in Afghanistan.
“The Afghans who are here for the last four decades have given us so much in the form of cheap labor, the daily wage workers, the skilled persons, and the traders, some of them now own billions of Pakistani Rupees and pay the taxes to the country, while keeping businesses that boost the national economy in Peshawar and Quetta,” he added.
Earlier the Pakistani court ordered the auction of the five properties owned by the former Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Karachi, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
Zaman is of the view that this is the reason that the more accomplished businessmen amongst the Afghan refugees who are residing in Pakistan, were offered the nationality status by the current premier Imran Khan.
“The real reason was, the revenue drain to Afghanistan, which could give a tough time to Pakistani economy if the Afghans take away their investments and repatriate to Afghanistan.”
Furthermore, the Balochistan National Party chief, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, a sitting parliament member of Pakistan and the PM’s ally in the center is a strong critic of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Mengal considers the Afghan Refugees a demographic disturbance among the Pashtun and Baloch communities who have been in line to rule to the Baloch province and de-escalates their position in the political process, a long-standing conflict in Pakistan.
Mengal’s political party had warned Imran Khan government if it would proceed in giving nationality rights to the Afghan refugees.
“The Afghans living in Pakistan are 1.4 million as mentioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they’re up to 3 lac in Balochistan and all of them having refugees cards, who are unable to cast their vote, the Baloch political parties are cashing it for a mere ethnic card to ignore the Pashtuns who were living on their motherland even before the creation of Pakistan”, says Nasrullah Khan Zairy, the parliamentary leader of Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party in Balochistan Assembly.
“We have the 1951 Convention on the status and human rights of refugees, which is yet to be ratified by the Pakistani state, though, the same Afghan Refugees have been awarded nationalities even in the western countries where they’re considered a hardworking lot who have brought there the culture, skills, daily wage work and businessmen. Pakistan can go the same way because those young people who’ve grown up in Pakistan are a vibrant force, we can settle them for services, instead of keeping them in the limbo for 4 decades,” says Zairy.
The Anjuman e Tajaran Balochistan official Haji Allah Dad Tareen confirmed that the Afghan Refugees in different businesses have their role and share contributing to the economy of Pakistan.
“We did not have much economic stability in Quetta before the Afghan Civil War when the people came here, they had lands, agriculture, livestock back at home which was sold and they invested their money in Pakistan to make a living, this is how the forty years passed, and their young generation belongs to Pakistan, completely. They were born here, they’ve grown up and got educated and completely assimilated in the society just like other locals have”.
Allah Dad is of the view that more money coming to Pakistan through these Afghan Refugees have opened the ways for different businesses, and they have a big share now, their going back to Afghanistan would surely create a vacuum in the economy here.
Our people did not know new skills, as we were ruled by the British, who demotivated the then Sub-Indian by giving them only low-rank jobs of becoming factory workers because their aim was to make people idle and non-productive, while also keeping the factories running for their foreign businesses. They did not want any indigenous people to own their own business and even though the British left, their rules have stayed with the law. The Afghans are a sturdy people and never shied away from physical labour, so we were able to fit in all sorts of jobs, told Allah Dad.
This is the reason 1.4 million registered and a total of approximately 2 million refugees see their host country as their homeland because most of them are born and raised in Pakistan. They still believe that Imran Khan as a Pakistani premiere will take forward the decision of granting the refugees a Pakistani citizenship as he pledged last year.
On the other hand, a small number of Afghan refugees also have records of attempting criminal activities. Tanzeem Ahmad, a Station House Officer (SHO) Gualmandi Quetta, is of the view, that bike snatching and robberies were caused by the non-citizens. Some have been given little punishments under legal sections and others on surveillance who are yet evolved.
They are served legal notices under court procedures and provided equal constitutional rights to hire defense advocates. Seemingly, the refugees violating the law would never do so, if they were legally eligible for jobs and not sent away just by virtue of being Afghan, when they applied for employment opportunities.
The early wave of Afghan refugees started migrating to Pakistan, during the Soviet-Afghan-War in the late 1970s. By the end of 2001, the Ministry of State and Frontier Regions Pakistan counted four million unregistered Afghan refugees who had settled in Pakistan. Most have returned to their homeland since 2002. The reports published by United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) in February 2017 said that about 1.3 million registered Afghans are still living in Pakistan and 0.8m have registration cards.
UNHCR focal person, Asif Shezad said,
“The program of repatriation of Afghan refugees has been suspended this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as the measures are only provisionary, UNHCR continues to express its deep concerns regarding the importance of the program itself.”
Due to the lack of protection available to returnees in Afghanistan, the repatriation program that emerged from a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Afghanistan, was initiated in 2003 and reaffirmed in July 2019. “We are glad to hear that the Pakistani PM agrees to provide National Identity Cards to the Afghan refugees,” said Asif.
There is hope that the current peace agreement between Taliban and the United States would pave a way for the Afghan government to put an end to the post 9/11 conflict. And peace at home would surely be a way for these Afghan Refugees to go home and repatriate in Afghanistan. They will be taking all their belongings and investments back to the motherland, which can be a new start of stability for the ethnic group.
Freelance Investigative Journalist and researcher