Study groups : Afghanistan

The Saga of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

by: Rostum Shah Mohmand, February 14, 2011. | share by e-mail share | print this page print | download | 0 comment.

This paper discusses the successive waves of Afghan refugees that entered Pakistan over the past 30+ years and illustrates the evolution of Pakistan's policy responses to Afghan refugees over time. In addition to discussing assistance efforts to Afghan refugees, the paper highlights the impact they have had on Pakistan and the local communities in the areas they settled. It ends with recommendations on how to deal with the protracted nature of Afghan displacement and the problems of sustainable solutions for those refugees which have remained in Pakistan.

Phases of Displacement

The saga of the Afghan refugees began with the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the ensuing decade-long occupation of Afghanistan. The occupation may well have hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. Indeed, Afghanistan and Afghan refugees figure prominently in any historical analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Conversely, an analysis of Afghan refugees requires some discussion of the period of the Soviet occupation (1979–1989).

Afghan refugees came to Pakistan in three distinct phases. The first group arrived in Pakistan in 1974. It consisted mainly of “political dissidents” who felt alienated by Mohammad Daud Khan’s policies, which showed a marked leaning towards communism. This group comprised about 800 people ― prominent ulema, teachers, political activists, and mostly right-wing ideologues who were opposed to Daud’s policies. The government of Pakistan looked after the dissidents very well because it had serious problems with Daud’s pro-“Pakhtoonistan” stance (i.e., challenging the legitimacy of the Durand Line as the Afghanistan/Pakistan border).

In 1976 all this was to change. Daud saw a clear danger emanating from the communists in the military. He began to modify his policies and mend fences with Islamic countries, including Pakistan. In pursuance of this new thinking, he made a landmark visit to Pakistan, where he called for a fresh approach and new beginning to the bilateral relationship. As relations warmed, Pakistan stopped patronizing the dissidents.

On April 27, 1978, Daud’s government was toppled in a bloody coup staged by the military supporters of the pro-communist Parcham and Khalq parties. The new government headed by Noor Muhammad Tarakai, unmindful of the huge sensitivities of the large majority of people in rural Afghanistan, tried to launch the country on a socialist course. However, the architects of the Saur (April) revolution assessed wrongly that the country was ready for a revolution based on the principles of Marxism. They failed to realize that Kabul, with its cosmopolitan culture and almost secular population, did not mirror the rest of the country, which was deeply conservative. This wrong reading of history and grave error of judgment on ascertainment of the aspirations of the majority of population cost Afghanistan and the region dearly.

The refugee influx into Pakistan began slowly, imperceptibly at first, in the months following April, 1978, as people in the villages of eastern Afghanistan, became suspicious of the motives of the new rulers and their totally secular outlook. The inflow of refugees began to gather speed as the news spread. This was the second wave of refugees.

Between July of 1978 and September of 1979, about 100,000 refugees entered Pakistan, mostly from the Provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, and Paktia. Many others were ambivalent because the full contours of the new dispensation had not become so clear to the majority of Afghans. But there were clear signs of the new system faltering. As often happens, the destruction started from within rather than from without. Differences over policy and strategy soon developed between the Parcham and Khalq factions of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic party of Afghanistan (PDPA). These were mostly clashes that centered around personalities.

In the fall of 1979 Hafizullah Amin, a close aid of Noor Muhammad Tarakai, staged a coup. Realizing that the Communist government faced resistance, he decided to adopt a ruthless policy towards the opponents of change. However, the ensuing reign of terror fueled further resistance. This situation provoked an internal debate in Moscow, which allied with the communist regime, took the fateful decision to intervene militarily. Hafizullah Amin was quickly removed and killed. Babrak Karmal, an ethnic Tajik and member of the Parcham Party was installed as the new “President.” The resistance against the Communist regime continued to spread, accompanied by violent reprisals from the government, including indiscriminate bombardment, detentions, and torture. This led to the third phase of mass displacement of Afghan refugees into Pakistan.

Recurring Conflict, Interupted Repatriation and Protracted Displacement

Initially following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the life and conditions of refugees began to change. The refugees, longing for a return to their country, began to leave in large numbers. In a span of six months, more than one million Afghan refugees returned to their country of origin. This mass repatriation was halted, however, when the various factions of Mujahideen began to fight for power.

In 1992 the pro-communist government of Dr. Najibullah was toppled and the Mujahideen (holy warriors) took control of the country In a tribally structured society such as Afghanistan, the factional fighting breaking out in the event of the removal of a common adversary was not entirely unexpected. But the ferocity and intensity of the factional fighting took many observers by surprise. Five different groups vied for supremacy in embattled Kabul (i.e., Hizb-Islami, Jamiat Islami, Ittehad Islami, Hizb Wahdat, and Junbish Milli). One-third of Kabul city was laid to waste, and the remaining portions of the city were substantially damaged.

The primary reason for the recurrence of conflict was that the Mujahideen had not developed a consensus alternative leadership. Nor had they agreed on how the contours and parameters of the new Islamic state were to be drawn. However, the Mujahideen factions were not alone to blame. The Government of Pakistan was also complicit. Regrettably, there was no spadework by the Pakistani ruling establishment on how to meet the eventuality of an Afghanistan that is no longer under the control of pro-communist parties. Equally, there was no attempt to seek to obtain an agreement with Najibullah so that upon his withdrawal there would be some rules of the game to observe. In hindsight, it was perhaps beyond the intellectual capacity of the rulers (of Pakistan) then to project into the future and anticipate the way that events would unfold and thus evolve a measured and pragmatic response.

The result was a civil war. With Afghanistan lying at their feet, the Mujahideen factions did not know how to adjust themselves to rule, administer, govern a country for the independence of which they had waged such a heroic struggle and given such huge sacrifices.

The events in Kabul spread fear and alarm throughout the refugee settlements in Pakistan. Not only was the repatriation brought to a near standstill, but there was a new influx of “urban” refugees from Kabul. They came mostly to Peshawar. Some who could not stand the vagaries and hardships of living in a camp and were slightly better resourced and rented houses in Peshawar. Some even moved to Islamabad. They brought a new urban culture and lifestyle to Peshawar. Shops were set up displaying Afghan bridal dresses; the well-to-do started going to restaurants; marriages were celebrated with pomp and show; new musical tunes were popular among local fans. The old refugees had by now well settled. Thousands of babies born after 1980 in Pakistan were now grown up. They had no memories of their own villages.

From 1992–1996 there was complete chaos in Afghanistan. Central authority had broken down, fiefdoms had emerged; law and order had collapsed; murders, robberies, and kidnappings were the order of the day. Afghan currency lost its value. The army had disintegrated, and the police had disappeared. At every 15 or 20 miles, a new commander held sway. Extortion was rampant. Every commander had his own security forces, paid for by taxes collected in his fiefdom. Inflation was high; unemployment rose to an alarming 90%! People lost hope. Factional fighting continued, the Mujahideen had no clue how to fix their country, and Pakistan, tragically, was providing no guidance.

The Taliban movement arose as a consequence of the chaotic situation that had arisen. People could bear such colossal anarchy no more. The Taliban entered Qandahar in October of 1994, and in the next two years took a major portion of the country south of Hindukush without meeting any resistance. By September of 1996 they had occupied the capital. Only Ahmed Shah Masud’s Shoorai Nazar and Professor Sayyaf’s Ittehad Islami now stood between them and parts of North Eastern Afghanistan. In 1998 the Taliban took control of Mazar-i-Sharif, thus extending their rule to the entire country minus three northeastern provinces.

During this time (1996–2001) there was some movement of refugees back to Afghanistan, particularly those originally from the eastern and southeastern part of the country. Peace and normalcy had returned to the areas under Taliban control. Opium production, which had been banned, was accepted by the population. Fiefdoms had vanished. Finally, after many years of conflict, the central government could issue orders and implement polices ― though some of these policies rankled (e.g., forcing people to offer prayers or encouraging people to grow beards).

Towards 1999 and 2000, the pace of repatriation quickened, as people began to feel that peace has finally returned to the war ravaged country. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States and ensuing military intervention, however, convulsive changes swept the country and the region.

In the first three years (i.e., November of 2001 to the end 2004), it appeared as possibly the Afghan refugee crisis had come to an end. Yet, sporadic incidents were reported from different parts of the country from 2004 onwards, increasing in 2005 and 2006. Gradually, the resurgence of the Taliban became more organized and spread across Afghanistan, feeding on anti-foreign sentiments and a disspointment with the new government.

Pakistan’s Response to Afghan Displacement

Pakistan’s policy on Afghan refugees has undergone some changes linked to local and international politics as well as the size and duration of displacement. This section provides an overview of the evolution of Pakistan’s refugee policy.

Zia-ul-Haq’s regime in Pakistan, which had come into power by a military coup that ousted a democratically elected Prime Minister (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) had lacked legitimacy both within and outside Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provided Gen. Zia-ul-Haq with the opportunity to connect with the world, establish his credentials, and obtain assistance for hosting Afghan refugees. Zia-ul-Haq skillfully capitalized on this opportunity by adopting a policy that contained the following elements and heralded the advent of a new era in Pakistan’s turbulent history:

  • All Afghans wishing to enter Pakistan would be welcome.
  • The stay of Afghan Refugees would be open-ended, and their repatriation would depend on peace and Security in their own country.
  • Afghan Refugees would have the freedom of movement and the freedom of enterprise within Pakistan. Afghans would not be allowed, however to buy property in Pakistan.
  • They would not be allowed to meddle in Pakistan’s internal affairs or politics but would be at liberty to organize their own political organizations. (These in fact were more of “Jihadi” outfits than political parties).
  • International assistance would be sought to rehabilitate the refugees in camps all across the country.
  • Those Afghans who wished to participate in the fighting against the Soviet led government in Afghanistan would be provided training and facilitated in their movement.

Zia-ul-Haq’s policy was aided by a political environment which allowed free flow of humanitarian assistance to refugees. As soon as the Soviet intervention occurred, the United States decided not to confront the Soviet Union directly, but instead to invest in arming, training, and financing the Afghan resistance to the occupation.

Thus a policy was designed in which the United States, joined by Western and other extra-regional powers, could inflict crippling financial losses on the Soviet Union at minimal risk to themselves. They found a willing partner in Pakistan, where the unlawful regime of a military dictator sought international legitimacy and material support.

Relief and Rehabilitation

Refugees entered Pakistan from all over Afghanistan, though there were fewer from the western part of the country. They came with few or no belongings, often physically exhausted because they would have traveled mostly at night, on foot or on mules, traversing a difficult terrain. Their immediate requirement was food, water, and shelter.

Looking after a population of over three million refugees was a Herculean task both administratively and financially. The response to this enormous challenge was equally bold and vigorous. All resources, domestic and external, were mobilized to support and sustain the displaced population. International assistance was sought, and was forthcoming without any reservations.

The bulk of the new arrivals were settled (or self-settled) in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan), and the North West Frontier (NWFP) and Baluchistan Provinces (see Table 1). This settlement, close to the border was natural, considering that the refugees wanted to remain close to their own places of origin and also live alongside people with whom they had linguistic and cultural affinity. Later, some refugees traveled to Mianwali, east of the Indus River in the Punjab (an area inhabited party by Pakhtoons), while others went further to Karachi.

Table 1. Afghans in Pakistan by Province ― 2005 Census
Source: UNHCR, 2007.
ProvinceNumber of Refugees (in millions)% of Afghan Refugees
Azad Jammu & Kashmir.013.4

As the refugee case load increased, separate organizations called “commissionerates” were set up in Peshawar and Quetta to administer the provision of assistance to refugees. Another smaller version was later created in Lahore. They were assigned the following tasks:

  • Registration of each and every refugee family (including details of family members, age, Province and District of origin, date of arrival, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Settlement in camps
  • Provision of tents, basic food assistance
  • Provision of drinking water and electricity.
  • Establishment of schools and basic health clinics

The commissionerates were organized into six sections: Relief, Health, Registrar, Security, Budget and Finance, and Education. From time to time other positions were added in response to the evolving situation. Most of the commissioners were serving civil servants and reported to the Provincial Governments. The Provincial Governments had administrative control of the commissionerates. The Federal Government, which provided the resources, had operational responsibility. Within the Federal Government, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRAN) coordinated all relief and rehabilitation operations.

The two most crucial partners in this large endeavor were the World Food Program (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While the WFP took care of three basic food items (i.e., wheat, edible oil, and skimmed milk), the UNHCR took responsibility for tents, kerosene oil, sugar, water supply, schools, basic health clinics, roads, and electricity (in some camps). While the WFP and UNHCR had their central offices in Islamabad, they had (and still have) their branch offices in Peshawar and Quetta.

Later, with the cooperation of the World Bank, projects were executed in sectors such as forestation, canal patrol roads, etc. Income-generating schemes were also started in some selected areas, including bee keeping carpet weaving, and handicrafts. Security was provided by guards who in some cases were fresh inductees, but mostly were former trained police or paramilitary personnel.

We must emphasize the complete understanding and cooperation that then existed between the commissionerates and the two main UN Agencies responsible for providing relief and succor to the refugees. This spirit of cooperation helped ensure that the huge operation could be carried out so smoothly over such a long period of time. UN agencies were not the only external source of support. Dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), mainly from Western countries, extended assistance in a number of sectors: food aid, education, basic health care, vocational training, water supply, child care, maternity health care, inoculation, Tuberculosis and polio control, modernized farming techniques, workshops for women, provision of child care, sanitation, sewing, and handicrafts. Some NGOs left an indelible imprint on the lives of the destitute refugees: The International, Rescue Committee, Care, Swedish Committee, Norwegian Church Aid, Save the Children, and the Saudi Red Crescent Society to name but a few, made a remarkable contribution to the care and support of refugees.

Although Afghan refugees in Pakistan would suffer many discomforts ― being away from their homes, enduring long hot summers, and coping with a life of total dependency ― the rehabilitation program was, by and large, competently handled. This could be attributed to the enormous sympathy and support for the Afghan resistance, as well as the admiration and appreciation for the sacrifices that ordinary Afghans were making to regain their country’s independence. Such sacrifices also inspired many aid workers in Pakistan to serve a needy and helpless population.

That said, there were certainly many black patches in the administration of this relief operation. Minor irregularities, thefts, and occasional excesses were noticed as the program progressed. The Commissionerate of Refugees then employing thousands of workers had to proceed against some of the delinquent and defaulting officials. Many were punished; scores were removed.

But the program did deliver. No one died of starvation; no one was refused basic health care; no one was left without primary education; there was no epidemic in any cluster of camps, and there was no problem with the host community on whose lands the refugees had settled.

Impact on the Area and Local Community

The presence of the large Afghan refugee population in Pakistan over such a long period of time inevitably left its imprint on the area and its people. There were many wholesome effects, which generally have been ignored by the mainstream Pakistani media.

The refugees worked with great energy and dedication wherever they could find employment. The construction industry was their mainstay. In fact, they were employed by the thousands in construction projects, mostly in the private sector. Farming was another sector where they contributed as ordinary and as skilled laborers. They had a good share of the transportation network as well, both in Frontier and Baluchistan. Most of the containers bringing products such as wheat oil and tents into Pakistan were owned by refugee groups. Many Afghans who went abroad to work each month sent millions of dollars of remittances to their families in Pakistan.

Scores of restaurants were opened in Peshawar, Quetta, and along the main road connecting Peshawar to Lahore. These showcased Afghan cuisine. Many of the bread ovens in Peshawar were operated by Afghans. Such was the quality of nan (Afghan bread) that the local customers thronged these nanbais (bread bakers) to buy their bread. Afghan carpets, manufactured in Pakistan, earned the country millions of dollars each month.

Many Afghan were educated in Pakistan’s high schools and then entered its colleges. Hundreds then pursued careers as medical doctors and engineers, or earned MBAs and Master’s in various other disciplines. Hundreds more went abroad to pursue their studies in medicine, business administration, and engineering.

One sector from which Afghan refugees benefited most was the newly popular information technology (IT). Many graduated in IT and later returned to Afghanistan to work in the government or private sector.

The Afghans were quick to learn the local language, Urdu. Those who went to college acquired a proficiency in English. There used to be French cultural center at Peshawar. Many Afghans entered for the French diploma and traveled to France to obtain degrees in French language.

The UNHCR helped many Afghan asylum-seekers to settle in the United States, Europe, or Australia. Many others went to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Gulf, Malaysia, Russia, Central Asia, or India.

The Afghan entrepreneurs, by nature, used to take calculated risks in undertaking a venture or activity, unlike their Pakistani counterparts who tried to play safe. This entrepreneurial dynamism had its impact on the local traders of Peshawar and Quetta who came into contact with them. A new trade culture evolved. The Afghans also showed remarkable ingenuity in producing and selling their products. This also influenced the local craftsmen who became more innovative.

Many Pakistanis were employed in the factories which were making Afghan carpets. These Pakistanis learnt the art and became productively employed in the same sector. There were hundreds of inter-marriages between Afghans and Pakistanis. This led to a new fusion of cultures which is still impacting on the norms and values of our society. Because the border was open, travel between the two countries was facilitated. Many Pakistanis came into business contacts with Afghans and were influenced by their drive, initiative and skills as stated earlier.

To be sure, not all of the effects of the Afghan refuge presence were benign. For one thing, the infrastructure came under strain. Ships carrying wheat, edible oil, skimmed milk imported from abroad, were unloaded in Karachi and the commodities were trucked to the up-country (i.e. Peshawar and Quetta). From these two main cities the commodities were their sent to the dozens of camps all across the tribal and other areas. Bridges and roads were severely affected by the hundreds of thousands of tons of commodities that were transported.

The refugees needed fuel for cooking, hence trees, plants, and shrubs were cut, and forests damaged in many areas. In the densely populated areas, the influx of refugees contributed to pollution and worsening traffic. A significant social fall-out was the displacement of locals from jobs. Refugees were willing to work for lesser wages and better. This led to some resentment. But this feeling of concern never boiled over to any demonstration or agitation.

Return to Afghanistan

The post-9/11 period marked a constant refugee return movement back to Afghanistan for the following reasons:

  1. Initially there was a feeling of hope among refugees that the fall of the Taliban and creation of a new government would certainly bring change for the better. There was a massive infusion of funding into Afghanistan following the arrival of the US-led coalition forces in 2001. Work started on many mega-projects, leading to the creation of a massive number of jobs. The returnees felt that whereas peace remains elusive there is an opportunity of making economic gains. The large-scale repatriation was helped by this urge to get productively absorbed in a new, expanding economy.
  2. The change of attitude (in Pakistan) of the people towards refugees. There was a feeling that the refugees should now be returning to their own country.
  3. Pakistan became a frontline state in the “War on Terror.” This sparked an anti-government insurgency among the people of the tribal area. The insurgency, in turn, evoked a military response which relied mostly on aerial bombardment and shelling by helicopter gunship and heavy artillery, creating an even more severe popular backlash that led to increased attacks on government forces and installations. Amid this cycle of escalating violence, Pakistani law enforcement agencies took into custody hundreds of Afghan refugees. This policy of persecution continues. Meanwhile, the refugees ― fearful, persecuted, and humiliated ― chose to expose themselves to physical risks in their own country rather than suffer indignity on a daily basis at the hands of Pakistani government law-and-order personnel.

As a consequence, more than five million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2001. Yet, about 2.1 million registered refugees and 0.4 million unregistered refugees remain in Pakistan (see Tables 2 and 3).

FamiliesIndividuals% IndividualMale% MaleFemal% Female
Table 2. Overall Registered Population and Province of Residence
Islamabad 6,65434,8881.618,96854.415,92045.6
Table 3. Overall Registered Population ― Camp vs. Outside Camp
Camps-Outside CampsFamilies% FamiliesIndividuals% IndividualsMale% MaleFemale% Female
Outside Camp212,90054.21,176,48354.6623,06553.7544,51846.3

Responding to a Slowing in Repatriation and Continued Displacement

On 17 March 2003, the Afghan High-Level Strategic Forum took place in Brussles. On the sidelines of that meeting UNHCR Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, Afghanistan's then Minister of Refugees and Repatriation Enayatullah Nazari and Minister for Water and Power and Frontier Regions (Safron) Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao signed a Tripartite Agreement aimed at facilitating the return of Afghan refugees. [1] Under the accord, the UNHCR agreed to continue to assist the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan for three years starting in 2003 (it was subsequently extended twice, once up to December 2009 and a second time until the end of 2012). The agreement also called for the establishment of a six-member tripartite commission, having representation from Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR, to oversee the repatriation process. A three-pronged strategy to deal with the continuing refugee population in Pakistan and faciliate return to Afghanistan was devised:

  1. The international community must support and assist the Government of Pakistan in ensuring sustainable repatriation of Afghan Refugees back to their homeland.
  2. To contribute generously towards the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan particularly the areas of potential returns in order to bring peace, security and socio-economic development.
  3. To assist the Government of Pakistan in developing refugee-impacted areas and host communities that have been adversely affected by the presence of Afghan refugees for such a long period.

Specifically regarding the repatriation of Afghan refugees, the present Tripartite Agreement:

  • regulates the repatriation and management of POR (Pakistan origin) holders. [2]
  • envisages that the repatriation of Afghan refugees would be “voluntary and gradual and with dignity.”

The biggest hurdle in the voluntary repatriation of the Afghan refugees has been the non-conducive environment in Afghanistan, mainly due to conflict and the Government of Afghanistan’s lack of infrastructural capacity and required level of focus on returnee issues. As decided in the Brussels conference, the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) is to be implemented up to 2013. This envisages a plan for reintegration of returnees inside Afghanistan for a durable solution to the problem. Another issue which has not kept the repatriation process at the desired pace is the security concerns of the international community.

Subsequently, the Government of Pakistan announced that the Afghan repatriation strategy 2007–2009 would be reviewed beyond 2009. It was also decided that the revised strategy will be on a medium-term basis and linked with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) for the period 2009–2013. Under this revised strategy, the focus was placed on:

  • Repatriation to and reintegration of refugees in Afghanistan.
  • International support for refugees and repatriation.
  • Host community development.
  • Development of refugees affected areas.
  • Addressing security concerns in Pakistan due to refugees’ presence.
  • Border Management/crossing to control recycling.
  • Constitution of a high-powered body to address Afghan refugees issues both in Pakistan and Afghanistan for durable solutions.
  • Joint Bilateral Commission.
  • Temporary management of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan during 2010–2012.

Under the present Tripartite Agreement, the Government of Pakistan has entered into an agreement with its Afghan counterpart and UNHCR to accept refugees on its soil until 2012. [3] In other words, there should be no Afghan refugees in Pakistan after 2012. The following factors, however, suggest that this scenario is unlikely:

  1. There is a raging insurgency in Afghanistan, particularly in those provinces from which the bulk of refugees have come.
  2. In areas hit hardest by the insurgency, government institutions such as schools and hospitals are shuttered. Basic facilities such as water and electricity are unavailable. Most UN departments as well as NGOs also have left these areas. As a result, there are no economic opportunities there.
  3. There is a fear that factional fighting in Afghanistan may resume. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult for many Afghans to take the risks involved in returning. Whether the Government of Pakistan would resort to pushing them back across the border, negating its old policy, remains to be seen. But in a situation where tens of thousands of destitute human beings (women and children included) are likely to be involved, care and prudence should be the main hallmarks of a policy rather than adherence to a framework or deadline.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan, starting in the late 1970s and continuing through the 1980s, was an epochal event. Had Pakistanis not provided the shelter and support that enabled the refugees to take their turn in fighting against the Soviet occupation, the history of the world would be different. It was because Pakistan provided the enabling conditions that the Afghan guerrillas, trained by Pakistan’s security forces, fought, always safe in the belief that their families were being well looked after. This was a defining moment in Pakistan’s otherwise troubled history.

Upon their arrival in Pakistan, Afghan refugees did not envisage a situation which would keep them away from their country for decades. Therefore, they never considered themselves permanently settled. The local communities also believed this was a transient phenomenon.

A significant consequence of the refugees’ settlement in Pakistan has been the enormous impetus that was provided for people-to-people contacts. The deep, abiding links between some segments of the two communities are likely to be an important asset to Pakistan and Afghanistan when peace is restored and as region-wide trade / commercial opportunities arise.

When the insurgency is no more and Afghanistan as well as the borderland between the two countries returns to a state of normalcy, those Afghans who have lived in Pakistan would begin to return and would be expected to play a significant role in efforts aimed at socio-economic emancipation of the poor, downtrodden people of the war-affected region. The cultural and social impact will influence the emergence of a new order based on tolerance, pluralism, love, and respect for other ethnic groups. The fusion of cultures would hopefully, one day, lead to the evolution of a new social order that would be underpinned by a strong desire for institutions, rule of law, pluralism, and democracy.

In view of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, however, the immediate prospects of repatriation are not bright. Many refugees may continue to live in Pakistan. Therefore, the international community should work closely with the Government of Pakistan to manage and provide assistance to Afghan refugees:

  • Those refugees who have acquired education and skills and are settled in urban areas could be given Pakistani nationality. This would resolve the problem of their status while enabling them buy property and engage in productive employment in Pakistan.
  • The Government of Pakistan should review the current strategy, which prohibits an Afghan refugee from prolong his/her stay in Pakistan beyond 2012. This is neither realistic nor morally appropriate. Deadlines cannot, and should not be enforced when dealing with the effects of humanitarian crises.
  • The Government of Pakistan should be urged to refrain from ordering the closure of any more refugee camps. The locals have no objection to the continued refugee settlement on their soil because they have worked out mutual agreements. Why should the government then unilaterally disturb the “status 940” especially when no security-related problems have arisen?
  • No Afghan refugee camp has ever been connected to organized crime or acts of terror in Pakistan. Afghan refugees have lived peacefully alongside their host communities. The Government of Pakistan should therefore be advised to wait for circumstances which would enable refugees to repatriate voluntarily.
  • The international community could establish a college each in Peshawar and Quetta exclusively for Afghan boys and girls, as well as fund the creation of 500 seats for Afghan boys and girls in Pakistani professional colleges.
  • The international community, through the UNHCR, should also restore and revive the system of providing basic education and health care to all Afghan refugees who still reside in camps.
  • The Government of Pakistan should be urged to refrain from arresting refugees on charges such as not having “travel documents,” which refugees are not required to carry.


1 [back]  AREU, “Afghans in Pakistan: Broadening the Focus” (Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Briefing Paper, January 2006);
2 [back]  Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, “Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Push Comes to Shove” (April 2009),
3 [back]  Ibid.

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