Asia-Pacific

Pakistan: Adding to Our Burden

Reports emanating from Afghanistan as well as from the Durand Line [the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan] indicate that, in the days to come, more will be added to the backbreaking burden on Pakistan, which is already imposed by the more than 2 million Afghan refugees currently being hosted here. Reportedly, the families of senior Taliban leaders have already reached Peshawar.

Panic created by the looming prospect of [military] strikes inside Afghanistan is leading thousands of people to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Fearing that a new wave of refugees might create problems for them, Tajikistan and Iran have sealed their borders. On Monday, Pakistan also placed a ban on those intending to cross over from the other side of the Durand Line, with or without valid travel documents. The Northwest Frontier Province government also has suspended the issuance of cross-border permits to refugees. Keeping in view the porous nature of the border, however, and the fact that in many cases tribes are settled astride it, it is impossible to seal it completely. If the neighboring country is invaded, Islamabad will come under increasing pressure from the general public in Pakistan to allow entry to displaced Afghans on humanitarian grounds.

Soon after the rout and subsequent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Islamabad was left alone to cope with the aftereffects of civil war. The United States, which had trained and armed the anti-Soviet mujahideen to avenge its defeat in Vietnam, abruptly turned its back on Afghanistan. Among other things, Pakistan was required to look after the material needs of the refugees. The influx of displaced Afghans gave birth to numerous social problems in the host country. Trade in illicit arms and narcotics registered an unprecedented increase after their arrival. Rivalry over social infrastructure became a source of bitterness between the migrants and local population.

The arrival of more refugees is bound to create new complications. A sanctions-ridden and cash-strapped Pakistan simply cannot feed hundreds of thousands of fresh arrivals. With its unemployment having reached new heights, Pakistan is ill-equipped to provide any gainful employment. Those forced to leave their hearths and homes are to be thought favorably inclined to the United States and may join the ongoing protests against possible attacks on Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, which is unfriendly to Pakistan, may send saboteurs in the garb of refugees to undertake terrorist activities. Under the circumstances, it is necessary to convince those planning to undertake reprisals in Afghanistan to help Pakistan deal with the consequences of their actions.

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