FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Afghan Refugees Feeling the Heat as Geopolitical Tensions Rise

Last week, the Pakistani government callously doubled down on its strategy of using Afghan refugees as pawns in its ongoing political dispute with Afghanistan when it refused to grant a long-term extension of their stay in Pakistan. Islamabad’s move will anger Kabul, which has struggled to absorb and reintegrate the massive influx of Afghans returning from Pakistan in recent years.

On December 31, the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards of 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan expired after the federal government refused to provide an extension on time.  The PoR cards allow the refugees to live in Pakistan “legally” and avoid harassment by the state. On January 3, the long-suffering refugees learned they would only be given a 30-day extension, rather than the 1-year extension the government had been considering under a trilateral agreement with Afghanistan and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The decision to limit the extension to 30 days was made during a meeting of the federal Cabinet in Islamabad which was chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

There are currently 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, with hundreds of thousands of undocumented refugees also living in the country.  The first wave of refugees began came over from Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, with many more arriving during the bloody civil war of the 1990s.  In 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan, beginning the longest war in American history.  The 16-year neo-colonial occupation has devastated the lives of the Afghan people and created a new generation of refugees.

Many of the refugees have lived in Pakistan for decades and have had children in the country. There are indeed children among the 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees. A large number of refugees have established firm roots in the country and have lost all ties to Afghanistan. Kabul has struggled mightily to reintegrate the refugees into Afghan society, repeatedly insisting that Afghanistan does not have the resources to deal with massive numbers of returnees from across the border. Many refugees are also terrified at the prospect of returning to war-torn Afghanistan.  Civilian casualties due to the war reached a 16-year high during the first six months of 2017, according to the UN.

Pakistani politicians often scapegoat the refugees as “terrorists” and charge them with being a burden on the state.  Indeed, while Islamabad has agreed not to forcibly return refugees to Afghanistan, in recent years, it has resorted to a policy of intimidation and harassment of the refugees, so as to bring about their “voluntary” repatriation to the country.  In mid-2016, Pakistan launched what Gerry Simpson, a refugee expert at Human Rights Watch, described at the time as the “world’s largest recent anti-refugee crackdown.”  Afghan refugees have told human rights organizations about the cruel methods used by Pakistani authorities to coerce them into leaving for Afghanistan, including deportation during the winter and police abuses like arbitrary detention, extortion and nocturnal police raids. In fact, during the recent three day period during which 1.4 million refugees lost their documented status, the refugees were reportedly harassed by security personnel, leading them to confine themselves in their homes until the 30-day extension was granted.

In seeking to build domestic support for the forced repatriation of refugees to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials have described the refugee camps where the Afghans live as “safe havens” for terrorists. There is no doubt, however, that Islamabad hopes to use the refugee crisis to punish Afghanistan for shifting ever closer towards it arch-rival, New Delhi.

The deepening alliance between Afghanistan and India is viewed by Pakistan’s ruling elites as a vital security threat due to their fear of “strategic encirclement” by India, but Washington has turned a blind eye to Islamabad’s concerns and has encouraged the two countries to further enhance bilateral relations.  Moreover, US President Donald Trump has recently adopted a hardline stance towards Islamabad, with Washington suspending military aid to Pakistan on January 4.  The increasingly belligerent approach of the US towards Pakistan, where anti-US sentiment remains high, has forced the country’s ruling establishment to adopt a defiant stance towards Washington. Pakistan’s working-class majority remains steadfastly opposed to America’s imperialist war in Afghanistan, and to their government’s role in supporting and facilitating the ongoing occupation. With few options available to hit back at the US and Afghanistan, there is a danger that the Pakistani government may decide to throw the Afghan refugees to the wolves.

Ali Mohsin is an independent writer.  He can be reached at alimohsin1917@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Ali Mohsin is an independent writer.  He can be reached at alimohsin1917@gmail.com

September 19, 2018
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail