14 September 2012: As the international presence in Afghanistan winds down, Zahid Ahmed, Insight on Conflict's local correspondent for Pakistan, asks what does the future hold for the three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan?

As the US-led coalition forces have decided to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, there are many concerns over the future of Afghanis within the country and abroad. There are many questions about the capability of the Afghan National Army to maintain peace and security, and neighbouring countries are figuring out their role in the future of Afghanistan beyond 2014. However, despite this uncertainty, countries hosting a large number of Afghan refugees see this situation as an opportunity to relieve themselves from the burden of refugees.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan make up the worlds biggest refugee community - around 3 million - and Islamabad has decided to speed up the process of returning them to Afghanistan. These Afghan refugees have already been living on extended visas in Pakistan, many of them since the Afghan-Soviet War during the 1980's. The continuous instability faced by Afghanistan - civil war, Taliban rule, and the international intervention - saw thousands of refugees preferring to live in exile.

Due to a long history of instability in Afghanistan there has been a constant flow of refugees to and from Pakistan. More than eight million Afghan came to Pakistan between 1979 and 2002 and it is believe that half of them returned after the collapse of the Taliban regime, but many more came to Pakistan because of increasing insecurity in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has been keen to end the war; therefore, increased the number of troops that heightened the conflict in Afghanistan. Consequently, greater civilian and military loss. According to a report, 2011 was the deadliest year in the country with 3,021 civilian deaths compared to 2,790 in 2010.

It is hard to understand the logic of the coalition troop’s decision to leave Afghanistan in such a hasty manner. The war is far from being over. The country is home to widespread insecurity caused by the war and terrorist attacks, weak rule of law and corruption, underdevelopment, failed peace process, and under such circumstances, millions of Afghan refugees do not see their homeland safe for their return.

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees have returned in response to hopes of good opportunities and security. Some have returned because the Pakistan government did not extend their visas. Many find it very difficult to resettle in Afghanistan after living for decades in Pakistan.

Authorities in Pakistan have viewed the millions of Afghan refugees as a serious threat to law and order and social stability in the country. They have been looking at the possibilities of sending Afghan refugees home for many years.

In Kabul, the government has said it is willing to take their own people, but not under present circumstances. The widespread economic, social and political instability in the country makes it unfit to receive a huge influx of refugees. The numbers of refugees retuning to Afghanistan has actually declined from 110,000 in 2010 to 50,000 in 2011. The international community has intervened in an attempt to ensure Afghanistan has right conditions for the return of refugees. The UNHCR chief met with the PM of Pakistan in February 2012, but has not changed Islamabad’s position on this.

It is easier for the international community to say that Pakistan’s decision is wrong to force millions of Afghan refugees to return to the country, which is ill-prepared to deal with a huge influx of people. Afghanistan is an aid-dependent economy, and so is Pakistan largely, and the latter’s economy has been bearing the burden of Afghan refugees for decades. Therefore, there is need to understand the rationale behind Pakistan’s decision. Pakistan has faced economic and security challenges because of hosting Afghan refugees in such large numbers. Thus, at this point the international community needs to look at the concerns of both countries to resolve the issue of Afghan refugees in Pakistan because both countries need support and mechanisms to deal with the issue of refugees.


Aisha on Sept. 16, 2012, 11:41 a.m.

Refugees do not need visas to stay in a host country. They get refugee status and hence refugee cards. Same is case with Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

dr venkat Pulla on Sept. 18, 2012, 8:22 a.m.

agree with Zahid and Aisha both that this requires an exploratory focus and attention to assist governments and NGOs and aid agencies to look at both internal displacement of people (IDPs) on one hand and the growing number of refugees in this region on the other. International focus and media has been largely on refugees in camps within country, neighbouring country or third country. There is I think a need to also look at the impoverishment and precarious living of internally displaced people (IDPIs) within this region. This as an issue is left to national governments who already have enough on their plate to deal with questions relating to border security and have tendency not to worry too much about the declassed movement of people from pastoral and rural occupations from the border villages to more interiors of these very conflict centred nations. These IDPIs often do not have enough skills to compete and lead a life in their new environments and continue to remain a second priority within their own country. Addressing IDPIs impoverishment, I argue also requires mitigation strategies from a human rights perspective. Life does not cease but is made vulnerable evidently allowing people to remain in abject poverty. I am of the opinion this is already a systemic violation of human rights. I think we need a concerned effort that the focuses on internally displaced persons as well IDPs in all these six nations, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal and a sensitive approach of dealing with their impoverishment comparable to the refugees. The question is not just of a human body with a card or no card of identity. It is being humane that ought to be our central focus. Dr Venkat Pulla Charles Sturt University

More from the blog

A poisonous attitude has emerged among the media reporting on the refugee crisis in Lebanon, says Sawssan Abou-Zahr. Bias and racism are being used to blame domestic problems on those fleeing war – and distracting from the real issues. Read more »

29 August 2017

The removal of Uganda's presidential age limit opens the way for a life presidency for incumbent Museveni and risks huge instability and violence, says Stephen Oola. Read more »

26 September 2017

Sierra Leoneans will not forget August 14, 2017. Flash floods and a mudslide left an estimated 500 people dead. Hundreds are feared missing and thousands are homeless. The stakes for conflict are high as citizens seek answers to questions of better urban housing facilities and functional land policies. Read more »

13 September 2017

More from the blog