The sudden withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan without reaching some appropriate political settlement with Taliban has put precarious conditions in front of Pakistan and other states in the region. The internal instability inside Afghanistan due to different ethnicities residing there excels the external vulnerabilities. Having the contagious border with Afghanistan, Pakistan realized the dire need of stable Taliban government in order to maintain the regional peace in South Asia. But in parallel times, the act of freezing the Afghan central bank’s U.S. holdings (3.5 billion dollars) by Washington aggravated the acute food insecurity in the state. In addition, the Taliban government faced the accusations of being exclusive regime that also contributed to the humanitarian crises inside the state. Inter alia, the recent decision taken by Pakistan’s interim government to deport the illegal Afghanis living in Pakistan after October 31 has become highly controversial.
Amid humanitarian crises and unstable economic conditions of neighboring country, a massive influx of almost 1.7 million people into Afghanistan will elevate the security issues for Pakistan. In my opinion, the past policy failures that could not put a check on illegal entrance of refugees from across the border cannot be corrected in this way. Also Pakistan should consider that the state of Afghanistan has not come out of the havoc caused by just recent earthquake in Herat yet. In reaction of this decision, an Afghan spokesperson said, “As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them,” Considering all these factors, showing rigidity with the decision instead of trying to negotiate with recipient state can damage the soft image of Pakistan to a great extent. There is no doubt that illegal residents should be evacuated from state’s territory but the goal can be achieved through a pragmatic approach while not avoiding the necessity of maintenance of peace.
Another dimension ignored by the state is the damage occurred to local business market that has been running by most of the Afghanis. For instance, a significant number of Afghanis are there in scrap dealing business, Pakistani scrap dealers are now facing significant loss because of out flux of these Afghani partners. Talking to some Pakistani businessmen, I made a realization that deporting illegal Afghanis in this way is damaging our own local business and in this time of blooming economy where almost half of population is striving to meet by basic needs of life, state cannot afford such sudden massive damage to domestic business. Instead of suddenly kicking the illegal residents off, an appropriate way of sending those back to Afghanistan can be in the following steps:
- Put certain restrictions on the free movement of illegal residents inside and through the state. This step can be a milestone in addressing the security concerns of the country, as it is the most basic reason that led Islamabad to take the decision of evacuation of these illegal foreigners. Another advantage of this decision will be the identification of more illegal residents as strict checking will make it easy.
- Instead of demolishing their residences, those residential compounds can be used as refugee camps to closely monitor their activities and it will also help in ensuring that all the illegal residents have been taken in those camps and out of the state’s territory. To provide for refugees in these camps, Islamabad should coordinate with UNHCR as both the bodies have worked on this issue in past.
- Conduct the negotiations with recipient state as both are aware of interdependence between the security issues on both sides. Present the policy recommendations to state and ensure the cooperation from our side in order to avoid any bilateral conflict. Negotiate the deadline of evacuation and make sure the secure conditions of refugee camps until the recipient state receives its citizens.
- Another good gesture that can be shown by Islamabad will be the offer to illegal citizens of Afghanistan that if they want to come back to Pakistan again, visas will be issued to them after coordination with Taliban regime and they will be able to reside here as legal citizens of Afghanistan.
- After taking all these measures, people violating the orders should be dealt with iron hands on both sides so that states do not face this problem again in future.
Islamabad should try its best to convince UN to play its significant part in resolution of this issue as it’s not limited to bilateral relations only. Sudden massive inflow of almost 1.7 million people would ignite the terrorist threats in Afghanistan. It is already very clear as many states have accused Taliban regime of providing land to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. In this situation, how would internal instability not contribute to power vacuum there that can be a great favor to these terrorist organizations? International world have already seen the atrocities done by these organizations and now closing their eyes on this issue will bring unpredictable results.
Moreover, the current economic, socio-political and security conditions inside Pakistan do not afford any such risk in its neighboring state. Any other more appropriate solution can be a very good choice to opt for Pakistan in every aspect but such decision seems to be taken without foreseeing the outcomes for both states and regional peace. On the other side, Kabul should also cooperate as their citizens have been in Pakistan for more than 4 decades. Pakistan welcomed them and gave almost every right just like its own citizens. This story of 40 years can be concluded with a captivating turn as very hopefully it will be a way forward to establish good ties between Islamabad and Kabul. It’s not only the need of one state; instead it is in the favor of national interest of both countries to establish good Pak-Afghan relations.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.