Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
Following the inhuman act of attack against a school in Peshawar, Pakistani Government has been pursuing a number of actions in order to convince public that the Government is seriously taking actions to avoid such incident in future. One of those efforts included the decision of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK) provincial government to expel Afghans living in the country as refugees. Also, security forces started bothering Afghans during their day to day search operations. Certain quarters have also started campaigning for Afghans’ expulsion from the country. It is mentionable that Pakistani media too has been trying to portray that the attack was planned and executed from Afghanistan side of the border creating a sense of hatred towards Afghanistan and Afghans.
Afghans have been living in Pakistan for over three decades as refugees and have established themselves within the local communities as well as economic market. It is particularly mentionable that they have been issued residence cards by the state government legitimizing their stay in the country till end of 2015. Hence, on legal grounds, the Afghans cannot be forced to leave the country.
However, even if one disregards the legitimacy of stay of Afghans, there are a large number of other factors attached to the stay of Afghans in Pakistan which benefits the host country. Those are the factors that actually has made Pakistan keep over 1.6 million legitimate and an unknown number of illegal and unaccounted for Afghans in the country. The factors that are mainly political, economic and seriously linked to the “military strategy” of the country and as such will facilitate stay of Afghans for at least near future, which could be many years.
Afghans have been used as an important resource for implementation of military strategy of the Pakistani establishment. The Afghans living Pakistan have served as a good recruitment pool for the army for deployment in the proxy wars being waged by Pakistan against its neighbors. Many Afghans have been fighting in Indian part of Kashmir since early 90s and has made a good share of fighters that fought against India in Kargil back in summer of 1999. Afghans continue to remain engaged in Kashmir via local Jihadi groups established and maintained by the state establishment.
Particularly, the Afghan refugees have been corner stone of Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan. The Taliban and other militant groups engaged in Afghanistan since 1995 have all been recruited from the Afghan communities based in KPK and Balochistan. Since the proxy war continues, the need for recruitment pool will always exist and as such presence of Afghans in Pakistan will be an important resource for Pakistani army strategists.
Besides military needs of the country, the economic engagement of the large Afghan community plays a significant role in country’s financial landscape. A huge number of Afghans have been engaged in production economy as well as mercantile in all parts of the country. Afghans have had a significant, but unrecorded, contribution to the local economic development of Pakistan. Afghan carpet weavers have given a name to Pakistan in carpet industry while trade business of Afghans that is based in Pakistan covers China, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Japan and many other countries.
Politically too, presence of Afghans in Pakistan has proven beneficial to Pakistan. The expulsion threat is not first of its kind used as pressure tactic against the Afghan Government over the course of at least one decade and it has worked perfectly well for the Pakistani Government. Afghan Government fearing for lack of resources to respond to the needs of returning Afghans have succumbed to political pressures from time to time. Hence, the Pakistani Government will never want to lose a trump card used against Afghanistan.
Hence, any discussion around forced repatriation of Afghans is more of a political statement not going to yield any result any soon. The statements are issued to create a false sense that the Government is taking actions in the aftermath of incidents. However, at the same time, policy makers know that they will never give away an important resource available for a very little cost that is also paid by the general public in the shape of sharing public facilities and business market with the outsiders. The history of Pakistan has been to sacrifice general public for gains of establishment under the banner of national interest. Ayub Khan has done it, Ziaulhaq did it, and Musharaf followed and their is no reason that their disciples will do any thing different.