While the country is faced with multiple political and economic crises, a key issue seems to be glossed over by state authorities is illegal foreigners, particularly millions of Afghans, gradually pervading into society and the economy of the country.
There have been millions of aliens living in Pakistan for decades, mostly from Bangladesh, Central Asian States and, above all, Afghanistan. However, the manner they have started pervading into Pakistani society is somewhat unprecedented. It is not only a grave security threat to the state but also society. What one could observe in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and equally in Sindh and the Punjab is that many Afghans have taken up businesses in all the four provinces of Pakistan. Even Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are not out of the reach of these Afghans. Now it is very interesting to note that in recent years innumerable Afghans have started spreading across Pakistan and initiating businesses and even have got jobs in private organizations, whether universities, schools, colleges or companies.
The fact of the matter is that after military operations started in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), now renamed Merged Districts (MDs) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, millions of residents of the areas descended upon the settled areas of the province and the country, including Karachi. A very large number of Afghans masquerading as Pakistani residents of tribal regions also relocated from there. The tribal districts of former FATA had a sizable population of Afghans living there since the 1980s, when the erstwhile Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan. These Afghans had crossed the international border and reached Pakistan. The MDs of KP straddle most of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, known as the Durand Line. The border was named the Durand Line after the then British India’s Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, who settled the border with Afghan King Amir Abdul Rahman in 1883.
Thus, a large number of Afghans, who had settled in the former FATA after the 1980s, relocated to mainland Pakistan in the garb of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). In other words, Pakistan’s war on terror and consequent military operations in the border regions came as a godsend for the Afghans to move on to the settled districts of Pakistan. It is noteworthy that despite living for more than three decades in Pakistan, the Afghans earlier had never relocated to the rest of Pakistan for fear of being caught. The former FATA provided a good abode to the Afghans whereas Pakistan also largely remained unaffected by the presence of the aliens in the border regions. The problem started arising when the Afghans began taking up residences in mainland Pakistan.
On the basis of money, the Afghans spread to the length and bread of Pakistan, and their tribal modus vivendi helped them start huge businesses. Slowly and gradually through money which the Afghans have earned in Pakistan, no doubt partly due to their sheer hard work, have pervaded in the country’s economy and society. There could have been no problem if the Afghans had been following the law of the land and engaged in legal businesses across the country. However, the problem is that they have established links with criminal gangs in Pakistan for their survival, economically and socially. Moreover, their natural rigidity and taking up sides in local feuds and enmities are affecting the social cohesion of Pakistan.
Another very important aspect of the aliens in Pakistan is that although they are our brothers in religion, yet the fact remains that the Afghans officially and individually have never accepted Pakistan as a sovereign state. In this context, they are a huge security threat to the country because in the long run whenever they would have an opportunity they could weaken Pakistan. Afghan and Indian governments could also use the Afghans to create problems for Pakistan. It is important to note that the Afghans have relocated to every nook and corner of Pakistan with the collusion of members of Pakistani authorities. Many financially corrupt Pakistani officials have facilitated a large number of Afghans to relocate from former FATA to every part of Pakistan. Thanks to these officials, many aliens got Pakistani national documents and are now “official” Pakistani citizens.
Pakistani authorities, by helping the Afghans relocate to the length and breadth of Pakistan and facilitating them in establishing businesses and to take up jobs, could not calculate the risks involved in it. Taking advantage of the situation, illegal Afghans have started fully integrating themselves into Pakistani society. However, this is not without large-scale negative effects for Pakistani society, particularly in the shape of aggravating local conflicts and law and order problems for state authorities and, above all, terrorism.
In the situation, a statement by former Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi some time ago that his government was considering naturalizing Afghan refugees and Bangladeshis living in Pakistan was astonishing and had raised serious concerns in different walks of life and many political parties too. It could not be understood in what context he had made the statement but it seemed at the time while doing so he was not fully aware of legal, political and social pitfalls, which such a step would precipitate. In fact, he was misinformed and misguided by members of Pakistani authorities, who have facilitated the Afghans to get themselves integrated into local society by receiving hefty sums from them.
Later, the former Prime Minister and his ministers tried to clarify that the statement regarding naturalizing Afghan refugees in Pakistan was made as there was no other option to deal with the foreigners living in Pakistan for long. Some ministers and government spokesmen unsuccessfully tried to defend the statement about naturalizing Afghan refugees by stating that he was just mentioning Afghans living in Karachi. It did not make sense at all that a country would take a decision to naturalize foreigners living in one of its cities or part and leave others. It is important to note that Pakistan is under no legal compulsion to naturalize Afghans living in Pakistan as refugees. Moreover, Pakistan is not even a signatory to the Convention on Refugees and Forced Migration. Even Pakistan is under no legal bar to naturalize children born to Afghan refugees in Pakistan because their parents have been living in the country as refugees, not any other legal status, therefore, children born to them also do not have any legal rights inside Pakistan.
The issue of foreigners, specifically Afghan citizens, is quite critical for the future of the county and it must be taken up immediately.