Afghanistan has been in shambles for the longest period in history and the people were compelled to flee their homes and the homeland. The Soviet invasion of 1979, US invasion of 2001 and US evacuation of 2021 has only added to the displacement of Afghans. The invasions of Soviet Union and United States tarnished the mountain-bound valleys, forcing hundreds and thousands of Afghans to seek refuge with their neighbouring countries. Evidently, two generations Afghan nationals identify themselves as refugees stranded in foreign lands of Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. Pakistan hosts the largest Afghan refugee population of about three million people, whereas more or less one million undocumented refugees are also residing in Pakistan since the Soviet invasion. It has played host to Afghan refugees for about four decades with a large population of Afghan nationals being born in the country. However, it is no surprise that overtime Pakistan has experienced political, military, social and economic changes and is therefore susceptible to changing socio-economic conditions of the country. So, it is uncertain whether Pakistan will be able to deliver to the refugees against the growing international pressure of this new refugee influx.
The fall of Kabul saw an immense population desperate to flee their country. People in the form of masses reached Kabul International Airport in the hopes of being evacuated to the border regions conjoining Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. However, the Taliban had already taken over the border security to prevent illegal movement. Pakistan, while actively participating in humanitarian activities across the border, has refused to take anymore of Afghan refugees as previously Pakistan had borne the brunt of refugee influx in the form of population gain, uneven distribution of social and economic resources and terrorism. In the forty years of turmoil in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion, Pakistan has hosted about 4.5 million documented and undocumented Afghan refugees in the country. The first wave of 3 million Afghan refugees’ influx admitted in Pakistan in 1979, which increased evidently within a decade and reached 3.3 million by 1988. In 1990, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported migration of 4.5 million undocumented Afghan refugees across the border and 3.7 million registered Afghan refugees were repatriated to their homeland in 2002. As per UNHCR, Pakistan was hosting 1.7 million Afghan refugees in 2010 and 1.4 million Afghan refugees by the end of 2020. In August 2021, once again, a refugee crisis emerged in Afghanistan and along with the Afghans, the international community turned towards Pakistan to bear the burden, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urging Pakistan to open borders for the needy and desperate Afghans.
Pakistan is in hot waters once again to host the Afghan refugees as the international community cites the “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan, disregarding the threat to Pakistan’s national security. Pakistan’s reluctance regarding the intake of Afghan refugees is justified as terrorists have earlier taken the benefit of the opportunity to travel across the border in and out of Pakistan disguised as refugees. The large masses of undocumented refugees that will cross over the border in case Pakistan takes them in will allow terrorists of various outfits to cross into Pakistan that will challenge the hard-earned peace of the country. As evidently witnessed in the past, the refugees’ intake has only damaged Pakistan internally and externally. Previously, Pakistan has been accused of harboring international terrorists and breeding them all the while being the largest victim of terrorism (this has gone unacknowledged for the most part). Evidently, such allegations mainly come from the hegemonic states, either global or regional. At the 76th session of United Nations General Assembly, India used the platform to malign Pakistan by referring to it as terrorist harboring country as a part of its vicious adversarial propaganda. Pakistan already holds a distorted image in international community regarding the issue of terrorism and hence the intake of refugees will only be a liability at this point.
At the while, Pakistan is not at the liberty of playing host to millions of refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The new wave of refugee influx is bound to further damage the progress Pakistan has made in the last decade. It threatens the internal and external security situation. Pakistan’s economy is at its weakest with inflation at its highest, the newfound peace still challenged by anti-state elements finding holes in security and the COVID situation that has barely been controlled and can have an outburst any moment. With reference to the security aspect, Pakistan has already witnessed the consequences of turmoil that unfolds in the region as the cricket teams of New Zealand and England cancelled their series in Pakistan citing security threats. These threats have not emerged in the country rather the regional situation of deteriorating security is the bearer of bad news, with hundreds and thousands of Afghans residing at the Torkham border gate. Although the humanitarian aid in the time of crisis has not been well received at the other side of border, Pakistan has continued to help its neighbor in the time of their need with food, clothes and medical supplies being sent to the camp villages established on the other side of Torkham border. Pakistan currently faces jeopardy as it vows to maintain “peace within and peace without”.