EDITORIAL: Human rights outfits and aid agencies who are up in arms about the government’s decision to expel all illegal immigrants need to remember two very important points. One, the order is limited to illegal residents only, who have been living in Pakistan in violation of both local and international law.
That does not in any way mean that the process of their deportation should be disrespectful, of course, but it is only fair for the government to demand strict compliance with rules and laws across the country.
And two, Pakistan has been one of the world’s leading sanctuaries for refugees for more than 4 decades. Millions of Afghans that flooded into the country at the time of the so-called anti-Soviet jihad were received respectfully, allowed to live and breed in this land.
Other countries that took Afghan refugees, and even a host of Arab countries that welcomed Palestinians ejected by the naqba (catastrophe) of dislocation were kept in refugee camps. Not so in Pakistan.
There’s also the fact that it’s no longer possible for Pakistan to house so many aliens; for security as well as economic/financial reasons. It’s no secret that a very large number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, that have taken many tens of thousands of lives, were carried out by Afghan nationals often disguised as refugees.
And once they infiltrated into the tribal area, they carved out sophisticated smuggling routes that created a black economy and hurt the exchequer when it was at its weakest.
That is not to deny the presence of genuine refugees. There is no doubt about the plausibility of the argument that the government should have continued to shelter those that are sure to face severe discrimination and collective punishment upon their return; especially ethnic and religious minorities like the Hazaras.
And while there has been no official comment on this particular matter, one can only assume that the rush to get the job done blurred the line between those that bended or broke the law and those that really feared for their lives.
Pakistani authorities should have made this distinction because they have already received three large instalments of Afghan refugees since the 1980s. First when the Soviets invaded. Then after 9/11. And most recently after the Taliban returned to Kabul. Perhaps they will lend an ear to advice from the US, the EU and seven other major states urging Afghanistan’s neighbours to develop a system for registering undocumented refugees in future instead of simply forcing everybody out all at once.
It’s not only Afghans that faced the October 31 deadline. It applied equally to all illegal residents in Pakistan. But the trials and tribulations of Afghans have dominated the mainstream press because of their sheer number in the country. Some sections of the media suggest the exodus of illegal Afghans will further sour relations with Kabul.
While that remains to be seen, it’s not clear how the Taliban might have issues with a neighbouring country implementing the black and white of the law inside its borders. Besides, some time has passed since the deadline was issued, and the Afghan government hasn’t had much to say about it yet.
Going forward, the spotlight will be on Afghanistan, not Pakistan, to see how it receives citizens that once fled for their lives and safety.
The Taliban government announced a general amnesty upon its return, but since then numerous reports have cast doubt on the sincerity of this stated policy. Now, with the international media and aid agencies watching carefully, and keeping in touch with returning immigrants, a lot will become clearer.
It is sincerely hoped that these people will face nothing more than honest implementation of their home country’s laws.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023