Afghan Refugees’ citizenship: A catch-22 situation for the government

Quetta: Deep in thought that he will be having a Pakistani National Identity Card just like others who cross the border gate in Chaman toward Spin Boldak for earning bread on a daily basis, Hikmatullah, 18, is a clerk on the other side of the border who crosses the Durand Line every day and arrives back home. He is untraced, owing to his identical look and lineage connection as well as a four-decade history of his family leaving Afghanistan.

Hikmat faces harassment and torture whilst crossing the gate on to Pakistan’s side and is concerned about his marriage to a Pakistani citizen.

Zulqaida, busy with her two daughters, Maryam 15 months and Naida 3 months, her eyes shine with happiness to hear that her citizenship would be a way for her husband Hikmat to get Pakistani nationality. “I do not feel like the domestic chores are a burden today, I am too excited because they are saying that Imran Khan will provide us protection in Pakistan and we will live here happily.”

Just like Hikmat and Zulqaida, there are thousands of Afghan refugees across the country who are not accepted as legitimate citizens unless they get the National Identity Card.

The Pakistani premier Imran Khan vowed to include Afghan and Bengali refugee’s children in the circle of nationality while speaking to a public gathering at Karachi’s governor house. The decision has become a point of controversy among the Baloch nationalists who have supported Imran Khan’s government in the center.

The Afghan Refugees fled their country after the 1979 Afghan Saur Revolution, a communist regime supported by the U.S.S.R, which was embroiled in a conflict with the religious groups of Mujahedeen who resisted around Afghanistan.

“The Bengali and Afghan children are unable to get employment as they are the deprived class of Karachi, and due to this deprivation, they are pushed towards street crime. We will provide passports and identity cards to those refugees whose children were born here. When Americans can provide a passport to children born in their country, why can’t we?” Imran Khan asked while addressing a gathering in Karachi.

“It has been 40 years since Bengalis have been living here, we will provide them with passports and [national] identity cards, as well as those Afghans whose children are born here. There needs to be a more humane approach towards this crisis, and we will work towards helping them progress and develop,” says Imran Khan.

“We welcome the decision by the Pakistani government leader Imran Khan,” says Qaiser Khan Afridi, the UNHCR spokesperson for Pakistan. “We are having 1.4 million registered Afghans in Pakistan,” he says. Afridi said that there are around 320,000 Afghan refugees in Balochistan.

A demography expert who wished to remain anonymous said that the majority of the remaining Afghan refugees were registered by the government security agencies after Army Public School attack.

He further noted that 0.88 million were registered as Afghan Citizens Cards holders. He also added: “Some 0.4 or possibly 0.5 million Afghans may have no registration card.”

“Pakistan’s constitution tells us that those children who are born in Pakistan have a right to citizenship. It has been an issue specific to Karachi. They [Afghan and Bengali refugees] are unable to return and they are unable to gain citizenship which makes them easy targets for exploitation. They earn half of what a Pakistani citizen would earn. It is a humanitarian issue that requires attention”, says Imran Khan while addressing the national assembly gathering and replying to the criticism put forward by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, one of the MNA elected from Balochistan. “They [the Afghan and Bengali Refugees children] have born here and international conventions tell us that we cannot repatriate them forcefully.”

“Three generations of Afghans have been living here in Pakistan and Pakistani citizenship is their basic right,” says Asfandyar Wali Khan, president of the Awami National Party, while addressing a press conference in Bacha Khan Markaz Peshawar. “Government should not politicize a humanitarian issue, in a time when the refugees from eastern border [India] can have citizenship and ruling right in Pakistan while the refugees from western border [Afghanistan] are faced by deprivation of rights from generations and after using these refugees in the war in Afghanistan are left orphans [referring to U.S.S.R invasion]”.

“Those [Refugees] who have been settled and have married here, with their children born here, we cannot let them remain as non-citizens. It is a human rights issue, they are human. Their presence is causing street crimes in Karachi. They are the deprived class in Karachi, and societal issues will arise if this deprivation continues,” says Imran Khan.

Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, the leader of the Balochistan National Party is of the view that Afghan refugees should have a dignified return to their homeland and Afghanistan’s sovereignty should be respected and a plan to curb conflict would be a better plan. He considers the influx of Afghan refugees a threat to society who are suffering from a shortage of resources, employment, health, education and development.

While talking to media after the National Assembly session, Mengal said that there should be a consensus on the nationality of Pakistan political parties. “This is a national issue, and it should be discussed if we provide them [refugees] with the nationality and passport, tomorrow they can be involved in terror activities,” says Mengal. He said, ““If we are including these refugees into our population then there will be a demographic issue, we are unable to provide jobs to our own masses, how can we bear the load of these surplus refugees”.

“Though our premier [Imran Khan] is known for “U” turns, he should understand that a policy statement should be released after asking those who supported him [gesturing to the Pakistani establishment],” says Asfandyar Wali Khan.

“These [refugees] are the people who were brought to Pakistan and used as gunpowder in Afghanistan but were abandoned after that,” said Khan.

Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal the central secretary of Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party says his party welcomes Imran Khan’s decision of nationality provision to the Afghan and Bengali refugees. “These Afghan refugees have rights enshrined in international law and conventions. Pakistan must provide these rights to overcome the humanitarian crisis, torture, harassment of these three generations of Afghans who were born in Pakistan,” Ziaratwal told truth Tracker.

Ziratawal said, “In 1979 we did not support the ousting of Afghans from their motherland, we condemned the war promoted from Pakistani soil and the interference in Afghanistan. Now as they’ve come and generations have passed so we should seriously consider solving this issue.”

While replying to a question over the already boosting population hike in Pakistani demography that has crossed 200 million, Badar Khan, an economist and development expert, is of the view that the Afghans are skilled and their children were raised here, hence they can be a good lot of human resource if they get the nationality.

“A skilled and hardworking lot will not be a burden for society, but for sure they can contribute in different walks of life and provide services as citizens of Pakistan,” says Badar.

In a time where war in Afghanistan has escalated and thousands of civilians and security personnel have lost their lives annually, with deadly attacks claimed by the Afghan Taliban and Islamic State-Khurasan chapter have frightened Afghans both inside the country and those who are refugees in Iran and Pakistan. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, thousands of families fled conflict affected districts in the southern regions Helmand, Jalalabad that borders with Pakistan.

In a telephonic interview the Afghan Consul General Wahidullah Momand told Truth Tracker that Pakistan can help Afghanistan in bringing peace in the region.

“The Afghans can only have respect and pride in Afghanistan, their motherland. Every Afghan living in Pakistan should return to Afghanistan to lead a life of dignity,” says Momand.

“If Pakistan honestly plays its role in bringing peace in Afghanistan, it would be far better than providing nationality to some of the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.”

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