The Pash­tun dis­lo­ca­tion

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Afrasiab Khat­tak

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.

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