UNTIL recently, Pakistan was home to the largest refugee population. For decades, the country won much praise for giving sanctuary to vulnerable people who had to flee their homes. When far wealthier countries showed a callous indifference towards those people seeking safety – tightening border controls while pleading lack of capacity – the example of Pakistan shamed them.
Now, however, the Pakistani government risks squandering that moral standing and courting notoriety, for planning what might be one of the largest forcible returns of refugees in modern history. Several times, it has imposed unfeasible deadlines for the Afghan refugees’ return, triggering fresh waves of harassment from the police and other officials. Each time, an extension has been reluctantly granted.
For Afghan refugees, these reprieves do not provide any relief. They merely serve to prolong their anxiety. Ever since the Soviet invasion of their homeland, their lives have hinged precariously on geopolitics in the region. An elusive peace in Afghanistan in the midst of an escalating conflict has stopped them returning voluntarily. In Pakistan, they still languish in the limbo of their camps, denied their rights in a country they know better than their own.
The latest attempts to send Afghan refugees back across the border speak to transparently political motives. As retired Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, the Minister for States and the Frontier Regions, admitted, clashes along the border and the killing of Taliban leader MullahAkhtar Mansour further soured relations with Kabul and led to the latest push against Afghan refugees.
Afghan refugees in Pakistan continue to languish in limbo.
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