I sat in the tent, alone. I felt depressed, wondering about all the people who were out there. I thought about the harsh conditions in which they had been living in from the past years, and I thanked God for His countless blessings on me and on my great country.
Just as Afghanistan was going into shambles and their cities were getting ruined, millions of refugees were flowing into my country every week.
I, Major General Akbar Khan of the Pakistan Army, commander of the North West Punjab Regiment, thank God without any limit. I can testify in the sharpest of senses that the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Army have been trying a lot to accommodate all of our Muslim Afghani brothers.
But, what can we do about the refugees who wish no good to my country? Not only are the refugees a burden on my country’s already weak economy, they present a security lapse too.
Such a situation emerges when these refugees cross the border, into Pakistani territory, and start living here without proper documentation. Moreover, they hardly try to get themselves registered with the necessary authorities as well. About 70% Afghanis who are registered with Pakistani authorities have no education, and are not interested in educating their own kin and kith. The Government of Pakistan therefore, has to provide for these refugees nonetheless. Nor are they of any use to the Pakistani nation, they often commit crimes as well.
But, they are our Muslim brothers anyhow, right? I personally believe the Government agrees to letting the refugees live referencing to this saying of the Holy Prophet;
“A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to any oppressor. Whoever brought a brother out of discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Judgment.”
Still, does this mean they should be left free to do anything they please? No I do not think so.
Let us weigh the pros and cons of letting the Afghani refugees live in Pakistan.
First of all, the tribal belts of Pakistan hold majority of mountains and uneven land that cannot be monitored completely, allowing illegal Afghans to travel easily between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The tribes that inhabit these mountains have migrated seasonally between the borders of these two nations for centuries.
As mentioned above, these refugees do not register themselves with the Pakistani authorities, making it hard for the Government to keep a check on their activities.
The Afghani refugees that came into Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of 1989 amount to a massive 3.3 million! Majority of these refugees have settled permanently in Pakistan, adding to the already alarming population of Pakistan. But this is not the issue;
Many of these undocumented refugees create economic concerns. E.g. since they are not registered with the authorities, they can easily evade tax payments. Since they have no documentations, when they earn, usually through businesses, tax cannot be charged.
The population of Pakistan is around 180 million, making it the sixth most populous country in the world. As a result of this and a number of other reasons, including the political unrest in Pakistan, energy crises, rise of unemployment, and the strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghan immigrants are increasingly viewed as an additional economic and social burden on Pakistan. E.g., the 2005 earthquake and the flood of 2010 laid massive strain on civil and military administration due to local residents and vast amount Afghan refugees.
The government argues that the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan has improved; hence there is no reason for both legal and illegal refugees to stay in Pakistan any longer. But the actual reason, analysts say, is the rise of militant attacks in Pakistan which Islamabad claims has its roots in Afghanistan. The move to expel Afghan refugees from Pakistan gained momentum after a deadly attack on an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, in which over 140 school students and staff were massacred. Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, has stated that the attack was orchestrated and organized by Afghanis settled inside Pakistan.
However, there is not only gloom with the refugees. I believe that if these refugees are given proper training and education, they can be vital contributing factors to our industries.
For starters, if the Afghani refugees conducting business activities throughout the country are somehow tracked and documented, they can be properly taxed. This will be a big factor for the Pakistani Federal Board of Revenue as tax collection will be increased drastically. The tax collected from these people can be used to give various services to existing documented refugees.
For years, reports of police harassment of refugees are ever increasing. To counter this, the refugees should be encouraged by the Government to get themselves registered with the authorities. Basically, the police take away anyone who has no documentation or legal proof of being an Afghani citizen/refugee in Pakistan.
I believe this is totally justified. The unregistered refugees are often exploited by non-state actors, as well as international organizations, to conduct terrorist activities throughout Pakistan. They are offered financial incentives, and are fed lied of how they will have a better life. Thus causing massive amount of casualties, usually costing lives of innocent Pakistanis. Additionally, illegal Afghan registered SIMs being used in Pakistan are also a cause of worry. Such SIMs have been used in several terrorist activities. They are registered in Afghanistan and are smuggled in bulks by illegal trafficking like many other smuggled items. According to an assessment, 90 percent of terrorist activities in Pakistan are linked back to Afghan refugees or their camps. The APS Peshawar school massacre in December 2014, in which 144 students were martyred, regarded as the deadliest terrorist incident in Pakistan’s history, also involved six Afghan militants who were later arrested from Afghanistan by Afghan security agencies. In 2015, the Bacha Khan University incident in Charsadda, KP, took place, martyring around 22 individuals, mostly students. Four terrorists entered Pakistan through Torkham Border from Afghanistan and massacred the innocent. The attack was orchestrated from Afghanistan by Taliban commander and his deputy commander till the end.
Captain Hammad Ali, the deputy security in charge of the Durand Line Army Check post, came barging through the tent;
“Sir! There is a group of approximately 150 women, 200 children and 25 adult males at the Afghan side of the post. They wish to seek asylum in Pakistan! What should I tell them?”
Thinking for a moment, about the misery of existing refugees, I thought of refusing them entry. But still, I immediately radioed the Defense Minister, and asked him whether the latter should be allowed entry. He replied passionately, “They are our brothers. Would you deny entry to your own family? If the Ansar of Madina did not deny entry to the Muhajirin, who am I to deny entry to these people? Let them in.”
I marched with my chin held up high towards the steel fenced gate, looked at the sentry, and proudly announced, ”Let them in!”
This is the Commander, signing out.