At a stone-throw distance from the Constitution Avenue in the federal capital these days is a lively theatre of refugees. They are Afghan expatriates who are in a dilemma of their own. They are scared of going back to their home, and do not want to stay put in Pakistan either. Rather, they dream for greener pastures in Europe and beyond, and are camping in the high-security zone exposed to the harshness of the weather. From toddlers to infants, and from youngsters to men and women in all age groups, there is a colourful mosaic of around 3000-plus dispossessed souls hoping in the benevolence of the developed world to help them cross the bridge of destituteness.
This human camping at one of the most sensitive zones of Islamabad, which recently experienced unprecedented shelling and use of brute force on the part of police and paramilitary on unarmed civilians gathering to protest against the dislodging of an elected government, raises eyebrows. Isn’t the administration scared of security lapse now, as many of the high-profile sensitive government offices as well as a five-star hotel fall in its vicinity? The authorities seem to be in slumber.
The un-profiled refugees can be duped into a trap by anyone, and so could be many other concerns on their part. Humanitarian aspect is one side of the story, but at the same time there is a list of unending questions as to how they are surviving without civic amenities, especially toiletry facilities, potable water and two-square meals? Is somebody there at their beck and call, or is there an agenda to push them to the brink for vested reasons? It seems the devil is in the details.
What is their contention? They say they are an insecure ethnic minority and the Taliban 2.0 rule is tantamount to their extermination. But not all are Hazaras or people belonging to the Shia faith. There are innumerable Sunni Pakhtuns, as well as men from several Central Asian lingual backgrounds. Some were born in Afghanistan and were forced to relocate across the erstwhile Durand Line, whereas many have opted for Pakistan anticipating their luck to blossom as they look towards the West! Likewise, there are Afghans who were born in Pakistan, and are now well in their teens, not sure of what nationality means!
A cursory look at displaced Afghans’ statistics reveals that there are 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. But Afghans are not the only breed to be counted as refugees in our homeland. Pakistan has had a fair share of children of lesser God composed of Bengalis, Biharis, Burmese, Iranians and even folks from Central Asia. They still continue to live in the shadows but do not have the brave heart to stand up and be counted.
Pakistan is at the crossroads of its existence. Never has parochialism poked its ugly head as high as it has these days. Ethnic and lingual prejudice could be seen all over the political mosaic. The factors of commonality that united the nation once are withering. To further compound this is the hybrid warfare and voices of dissent. Thus, the point is Pakistan has its own problems, and the least it could afford is revulsion in the form of terrorism backlash or suspicious activities fanned by external hands through their cahoots in our midst.
It’s time to take a call. Pakistan should be free from illegal settlers. Pakistan has hosted more than five million Afghan refugees in all humility, and in return its social fabric was devastated. Gun culture, drug-trafficking, lawlessness, loss of writ of state and compromise on sovereignty were some of the price tags it paid — and is still suffering its wrath.
Let Pakistan be free from aliens. The country needs space to synergise its indigenous culture and its proud constituents. Having lived under the fear of psychological harassment, the nation is bruised to the core. Men of impeccable integrity must rewrite a new social contract, and at the same time settle the dust on refugees’ fissures once and for all. This backlog has been there for decades. Let’s take a break.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 19 June 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.