InternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 11

Refugees or a security risk?

Recently, two very important developments have taken place regarding national security, which if pursued and implemented in letter and spirit, would go a long way in ensuring security in the country.

The two related developments include the moving of court by a notable of Mohmand tribal district for the cancellation of thousands of Pakistani Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) and domicile certificates, obtained fraudulently by citizens of Afghanistan residing in the district. The second development is an announcement by Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed of blocking around 200,000 CNICs obtained through fraud by Afghanistan nationals living in Pakistan.

The two incidents seem to be closely related as the government’s move to block the CNICs of 200,000 Afghan citizens came just days after the filing of the petition. A large number of Afghan nationals living in Pakistan obtained Pakistani nationality documents, including CNICs and domiciles, and many have been involved in crimes and a range of illegal activities. The crimes and activities include gun-running, drug-smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, the provision of mercenary services for local animosities between and among tribes and families and prostitution. However, the most dangerous activity in which a large number of Afghans have been involved over decades is terrorism. It is important to note that in nearly all terrorist activities, which have taken place in the last four decades in Pakistan, including the ruthless bombings of the 1970s and 1980s in different cities of the country, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan and afterwards, to the peak of terrorism in Pakistan from 2007 to 2016, Afghan nationals were involved in them or Pakistani terrorists had the backing of Afghanistan. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979, millions of Afghan citizens descended on Pakistan as refugees. At one point in time in the 1980s and 1990s, the number of the Afghan refugees had reached a mammoth four million. At the time, it was the highest number of refugees hosted by a single country in the world and was a sort of record of its kind.

While living in Pakistan, most of the refugees, due to bad policies of Pakistani decision-makers, particularly strategists enamored of the concept of finding the “strategic depth” in liberated Afghanistan and General Zia’s vision of creating a Muslim emirate in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, gave a complete freedom to the Afghan refugees to do whatever they liked and live in cities and villages instead of camps. It was one of the gravest mistakes that Pakistan policymakers committed in the history of the country. The millions of Afghan nationals, bereft of historical love or respect for Pakistan and its people, on one hand, and successive Afghan governments always having irredentist claims on Pakistani Pakhtun and Baloch territories, on the other, wreaked havoc on Pakistani society. As most of the Afghans had to be educated in madrassas and imparted militant training and brainwashing to be able to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, thousands of so-called madrassas were established. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the madrassas were never dismantled and kept as “strategic” assets by Pakistani strategists while clerics discovered them as a source of their financial sustenance, political base and springboards for societal influence and control.

Thus, nobody in Pakistan’s larger interest and security closed them or at least brought them under state regulations. So, the Afghans continued to study in the madrassas and got militant training in Pakistan, which resulted in the evolution of madrassa, Kalashnikov and heroin culture in Pakistani society. The implications and repercussions of the cultures and trends lacerated the traditionally tolerant fabric of Pakistani society. The presence of millions of Afghans, with complete freedom given to them by Pakistani strategists, as well as using a large number of Afghan young men to fight the Soviets completely changed traditional Pakistani society and its cultural dynamics. Traditionally intolerant and violent Afghan society was also greatly affected by all the developments as they reinforced violence and militancy in Afghanistan.

However, on the Pakistani side, the Afghan nationals having traditional hate for Pakistan and Pakistanis, as the latter were considered as successors of British colonial rulers, who continually drubbed Afghans without colonizing Afghanistan, living as refugees did their utmost to inflict damage on Pakistani society. In the process, a large number of Afghan nationals living as refugees started working for India, the archrival of Pakistan, which has always attempted to create internal schisms and chasms in Pakistan, considering the state as “artificial” and created as a result of division of “Mother India.” Thus, the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan have become a grave strategic security threat to the country. Although, there has been some realization in the Pakistani decision-makers or to say groups of the strategists, yet nothing concrete has been done to repatriate the millions of Afghans to Afghanistan.

International organisations, like the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) along with European countries, have also been pressurising Pakistan not to forcibly return the Afghan refugees. Instead, they prevailed upon Islamabad to allow the Afghan refugees to continue their stay in Pakistan without understanding the grave consequences which the refugees could pose to nuclear Pakistan and through it to the region and other regions.

The petition submitted in the Peshawar High Court by Mohmand district resident, Hazrat Khan Mohmand, to cancel the CNICs and domicile certificates of the Afghans acquired fraudulently has become extremely important. In his petition, he revealed that some of the Afghan nationals living in Mohmand district had made themselves “maliks” (tribal notables), traditionally authorised to authenticate the credentials of local residents to obtain important documents, like CNICs, passports and domicile certificates. Having a self-acquired status of maliks, the Afghan citizens are attesting the documents of other Afghans and helping them obtain Pakistani nationality. This is indeed a grave situation. It is important to note that two main Pakhtun nationalist parties, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) in Balochistan and Awami National Party (ANP), during their stints in the government at the provincial level, helped many Afghan nationals get Pakistani nationality in order to strengthen their local support. Corroborating his claim, the petitioner revealed that many Afghan nationals in his area, some of them now acting as tribal chieftains, did not have Pakistani identity cards before 2012. He revealed that on a complaint by locals to the deputy commissioner a joint investigation team (JIT) had been constituted which failed to submit its inquiry report. Perhaps, Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, taking notice of that petition, has ordered the National Data Registration Authority (NADRA) to block the CNICs of 200,000 Afghan nationals. It is a positive step and if properly managed, it would be instrumental in strengthening national security.

However, it is important to note that the number of Afghans having obtained Pakistani national documents is far bigger than 200,000, which may be the tip of the iceberg. It needs to be properly investigated and in this regard the help of local communities and elders could be used as they can rightly identify people.