The end to the ongoing Afghan crisis is not in sight. The Taliban say that they did not anticipate that Kabul will fall this easily as they scramble to govern the war-torn country and look to form the pledged inclusive government. The western countries are continuing their evacuation from the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul amidst the quite discernible humanitarian crisis. Over 12,000 people have been evacuated since the Taliban takeover. Among them are western government staff, aid agency workers, mere hundreds of ‘at-risk’ Afghan residents who worked with the occupying forces, and numerous pet dogs of the western evacuees. Yet the airport remains packed with thousands of Afghans looking to leave the country for various reasons including fear of persecution from the Taliban.
As for the Taliban, they have announced a general amnesty for ex-Afghan army soldiers, contractors, and translators who worked for the occupying troops as well as the officials of the now-ousted administration of the former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The armed group has also promised to not impose the hard-line laws from their previous stint in power in the late 90s. The Taliban have pledged to allow women to have an education and work under the limitations of the Islamic Shariah. The group has also opened up diplomatic talks with cooperating countries including China to stabilise the stuttering economy. The firefight to govern is continuing.
Amidst reports that the Taliban were conducting door to door searches for people who collaborated with the NATO forces or the previous Afghan government. The report claims that a considerable number of the individuals have been warned to turn themselves in otherwise the Taliban will arrest, prosecute, interrogate, and punish their family members. While the Taliban have vehemently denied the accusations, there is growing fear among Western powers and among rights organisations that there may be a gulf between what the Taliban say and what they do.
The scenario brings up the question of the Afghan refugees. While some of the countries have offered refuge to the Afghans, others have called for tougher border protocols. So far, the US has pledged to welcome 10,000 Afghan refugees, while Australia is ready to take in 3,000 under an existing policy. Tajikistan has vowed to shelter 100,000 displaced people but most of the European countries have expressed reluctance in committing to shelter refugees other than the ones who assisted their own agencies during the war. French President Emmanuel Macron probably sums up the West’s ungrateful, rather churlish, attitude toward the refugees as he urged the EU to take precautionary measures against what he called the “significant irregular migratory flows.”
That leaves Afghanistan’s long-time, love-hate partner Pakistan to do the heavy lifting. Pakistan began housing millions of Afghan refugees in 1979 and the number topped a whooping 4 million by the time the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. While most returned to their homeland by 2002, there are still about 1.5 million Afghans living on Pakistan’s soil. While Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid has maintained that no new refugees will be entertained, refugees have been crossing into Pakistan by the thousands. The is a marvellous opportunity to integrate the existing and limited number of incoming refugees on humanitarian grounds as well as economic reasons.
The argument goes like this: provided that the refugee influx is quite inevitable given the decades-long regional relations and the ease of cultural assimilation, Pakistan should use the manpower to its advantage, which has, frankly, been largely idle for the past four decades. However, Pakistan should not repeat the mistakes made during the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s rule where Afghan refugees were temporarily registered with NADRA – National Database and Registration Authority – without definitive protocols for monitoring, evaluation, and a road to citizenship.
Another viable policy can be repatriation in the long run subject to particular circumstances. A replica or a modified version of Iran’s Amayesh policy from the early 2000s comes to mind where Iran issued Amayesh cards to some 935,000 Afghan refugees. These refugees received assistance from Tehran in collaboration with the UNHCR to enhance their self-reliance and help them rebuild their lives upon their return to Afghanistan. There is no use keeping them as refugees; as an economic and social burden. It makes more sense to bring them into the national fold. This method seems the best way to assist the refugees – without demeaning their self-respect – to eventually get citizenship under certain conditions or return to their homeland.
Despite the bloody history of the past two decades between both countries, it would be only gracious if Pakistan takes in distressed Afghans whose lives mean next to nothing in the game of global realpolitik. If it does not suffice as an argument, consider the blood spilt here and across the border. If we do not embrace our distraught neighbours who have probably lost more than we have, it would be an unforgivable disservice to people who lost their lives during the 40-years of Afghan wars, terrorist attacks, and the long trail of blood.