0429 GMT May 27, 2022
Whatever their reasons for being here, Afghan refugees in Pakistan all now face a similar plight: of being caught up in the dragnet that is sweeping through the country with the stated goal of removing ‘illegal’ residents from this South Asian nation of 180 million people, IPS reported.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 1.6 million Afghans are legally residing in Pakistan, having been granted proof of registration (PoR) by the UN body. Twice that number is believed to be unlawfully dwelling here, primarily in the northern, tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.
“Forced repatriation will expose us to many problems." Gul Jamal, an elderly Afghan refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Most arrived during the Soviet invasion of 1979, the chaos of war squeezing millions of Afghans out of their embattled nation and over the mountainous border that stretches for some 2,700 km along rocky terrain.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and what was then known as the North-West Frontier Province, now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), offered an easy point of assimilation, the shared language of Pashto bridging the divide between ethnic Pashtun Afghans and the majority Punjabi population.
But what began as a warm welcome has turned progressively sour over the decades, as Afghans are increasingly blamed for rising crime, unemployment and persistent militancy in the region.
The Dec. 16 terrorist attack on a school in the KP’s capital Peshawar, which killed 132 children, has only added fuel to a fiery debate on the status of Afghan refugees, who are accused of swelling the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militant groups operating with impunity in the tribal areas.
Three days after the massacre, on Dec. 19, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak convened an emergency cabinet meeting to demand the immediate removal of all Afghan refugees, claiming that the grisly attack on the Army Public School was planned in Afghanistan.
His call for repatriation joined a chorus that has been growing steadily louder in northern Pakistan as the average citizen struggles to come to terms with an era of terrorism that has resulted in over 50,000 deaths since 2001, when the US occupation of Afghanistan prompted a second wave of immigration into Pakistan.