The Pashtun dislocation
THE devastating armed conflict that has continued in and around Afghanistan for the last four decades has brought death and destruction on a very large scale. It has not been some local or limited conflict fought between lightly equipped local factions. The strongest armies of the modern big powers of the contemporary world and regional states equipped with the most lethal weaponry of the 20th and 21st century have been parties to the prolonged war in and around Afghanistan. It started with the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979 that continued till early 1989.
Soviet army used fighter jets, tanks and other heavy weaponry for retaining their grip over Afghanistan. The Afghan resistance received large scale material support, military training and political backing from the US and other western powers, Arab countries and Pakistan in their fight against the Soviet Union and her Afghan Allies. Unfortunately the war did not end with the withdrawal of Soviet troops and proxy wars and civil war replaced the war against the Soviet occupation. Afghan cities were particularly destroyed during this phase of the armed conflict.
The induction of US-led ISAF forces after 9/11 that battled against the Pakistan based Alqaida and Taliban brought in a new wave of colossal destruction. This situation not only did not allow any let up in the conflict but it also became instrumental in gradually expanding the conflict into FATA and Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan that was a base area of Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. Like withdrawl of Soviet troops the large scale draw down of ISAF forces has also not led to peace in Afghanistan. The resurgent Taliban have launched large scale attack on personal and installations of Afghan state to impose their version of theocracy on Afghanistan. FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also suffered heavy losses in continued fighting between Pakistan army and fanatic insurgents who also want to Talibanize Pashtun areas in Pakistan.
Pashtun belt on both sides of the Durand Line has been the epicenter of this war therefore it has naturally borne the brunt of the devastation, although the entire region including many other ethnicities have also been impacted by it. Hundreds of thousands people lost their lives in Afghanistan . Millions had to leave their ancestral abodes for saving their lives by taking refuge in neighboring countries.
Pashtuns/Afghans have faced horrendous and brutal invasions in the past mostly because of their geographic location as gateway to Indian sub continent . For example the marauding lashkars of Ulagh Bek and subsequently Babur unleashed bouts of murder and plunders in Kabul and Kandahar that forced a number of Pashtun tribes to immigrate to South and East. The immigration of Pashtun tribes of Yosufzai (originally Esupzai) and Mohammadzais to Peshawar valley was a case in point.
They were forced to leave their homes and hearths to save their lives unlike the migrations that have been taking place through out the history for seeking economic fortunes. There is a difference between immigration of Pashtun/Afghan tribes when they marched towards Indian subcontinent as part of their own armies or becoming components of the armies of other conquerors to build empires in foreign lands. But there are numerous instances when they have been forced to resort to exodus to avoid large scale death and destruction of war.
The current displacement and dislocation is unprecedented, first of all in its magnitude. Originally about five millions Afghan refugees had come to Pakistan in 1980s. Around three millions Afghan/Pashtuns are still living on the eastern side of Durand Line. Their absolute majority initially lived in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan but as the flames of war reached these areas they along with the local Pashtuns had to move further in the southern and eastern direction. Analysts in Pakistan are reluctant to point out the fact that apart from providing cheap labor in Pakistani cities these Afghan refugees have also been the main source for providing cannon fodder to the Pakistan supported Taliban war in Afghanistan. Taliban could not be "defeated" in Afghanistan as they had pools of new recruits among Afghan refugees after loosing thousands of fighters in Afghanistan.
Together with about three million IDPs of FATA and Pakhtunkhwa the Afghan/Pashtun dislocated persons constitute the gravest humanitarian crises in South Asia. Because of setting in of refugee fatigue and also because of eruption of Middle Eastern crises the international community's focus has already shifted from the humanitarian crises here. The most " imaginative " initiative taken by Pakistani state has been to change the nomenclature. IDPs are now termed by ISPR as TPI (temporarily displaced persons). As if that will reduce their hardships. As if that will persuade Punjab police to stop humiliating and fleecing these hapless people. It is a typical bureaucratic move to push the real problem under the carpet.
Afghan refugees problem has persisted mainly because fighting has continued in Afghanistan. Pakistan has to realize that as long as Taliban will be free to go from their Pakistani sanctuaries to fight in Afghanistan there wouldn't be any sustainable repatriation and if the fighting intensifies we can also expect new Afghan refugees. Secondly, successive Pakistani governments and UNHCR have focused only on repatriation along with a little bit of relocation. But they have never considered local absorption which has been an important component of of the solution of every major refugee problem in the world.