Refugee Crisis &Managing Pak-Afghan Border

Hassam Ahmed Siddiqi

US withdrawal from Afghanistan has largely created uncertainty and chaos within Afghanistan. Relations between Afghan government and Taliban have predominantly been strained as both sides failed to negotiate a workable solution for the future of Afghanistan. Earlier this month, Taliban officials claimed control over 85% territory in Afghanistan and as the US forces are expected to complete their withdrawal by the end of August,Taliban are also expected to exercise control over Kabul within no time.

It is a fact that over three decades of conflict has taught Afghan Taliban traits of leadership and statehood. Strategy of seizing major chokepoints, trade routes, border crossings with neighboring states and important government installations depict their strategic and well-thought-out plan for the future. In a recent event, the Taliban took control of the Afghan side of Pak-Afghan border crossing at Spin Boldak in Kandahar, after the Afghan National Army (ANA) failed to defend its territory. In another event, the Pakistan Armygranted refuge and safe passage to 46 soldiers of Afghan National Army (ANA)on the Chitral border after they were forced to cross in to Pakistan. Thirty-five Afghan soldiers were granted refuge earlier this month in a similar incident and handed over to Afghan authorities in a dignified manner after due procedure.Due to the strong presence of Talibanalongside Pak-Afghan border, it is presumed that the conflict between Afghan forces and Taliban will spill over into Pakistan. Hence, Pakistan has moved the Frontier Constabulary, Levies Force, and other militias from front-line positions as the Pakistan Army has begun to man those positions.

Uncertainty in Afghanistan greatly impactsPakistan as a highly expected civil war in Afghanistan will force the Afghans to migrate. As historically conceived,a large portion of poor Afghan populationmigrates towards Iran and Pakistan while influential Afghans mostly choose to migrate towards the European and Arab states. Pakistan has hosted over 4 million Afghan refugees in the near past andover 1.5 million Afghan refugees still reside in Pakistan.Keeping in view the nature of conflict, a renewed refugee crisis is highly expected, however NSA Dr. Moeed Yousuf explicitly stated that Pakistan is willing to help but is in no position to take new refugees this time.Prime Minister Imran Khan has also affirmed the same position, however details of a private briefing to the national security committee of the parliament by the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and DG ISI General Faiz indicate that Pakistan is expecting 0.7 million Afghan refugees in the first year alone. In worst case scenario, the Government of Pakistan plans to settle the refugees in camps alongside the border with Afghanistan and will prevent them from settling in mainland Pakistan.

Pakistan has almost completed the fencing of its Pak-Afghan border as Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed recently stated that 88% of border fencing has been done, while the remaining is expected to be completed in next two months. Fencing & proper management of Pak-Afghan border will greatly help Pakistan this time as unregistered Afghans will not be able to enter Pakistan without proper documentation. The important issue that lies ahead of us is weather Pakistan will be able to host & restrict Afghan refugees alongside the borderline camps. Considering the prospects of reviving economy after losing more than $100 billion in war on terror over the past two decades, Pakistan may become a victim of another decades-long civil conflict in Afghanistan, which the country will be unable to handle strategically or economically. Pakistan must completely secure its borders at the earliest in order to stop any spillover effects of Afghan conflict. Moreover, planning and coordination with international stakeholders to facilitate refugees is the need of the time as Pakistan might have to open its borders in light of deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

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