PESHAWAR (5th June, 2016): The young boy in dark shalwar qameez, trimmed hairs in popular western style, looking more like a boy from elite family of Peshawar surrounded by his friends enjoys the locally prepared green tea—qahwa, possibly be his farewell gathering in Peshawar.
Aimal Mustafa, 27, is afraid that Pakistan has zero tolerance for Afghan Refugees to remain on its soil anymore. Aimal, with half smile on his face asks, “Where should I go, I am by birth Pakistani, Peshawri [residence of Peshawar], I have never visited Afghanistan [the country of my parents in my life]”.
Aimal told, narrating his parents that they had migrated from “Khugyani” one of the district of Nangarhar, where the Islamic State, the organization of religious hardliners well known for their brutality in Iraq and Syria, has got sanctuaries and fighting Afghan government and NATO allies.
Six millions of Afghans fled their country after the USSR invasion in 1979 and took refuge in Pakistan and Iran based refugee’s camps, cites the UNHCR report. And their stay took longer when the 1988 USSR withdrawal caused the Afghan civil war and then the Taliban taking control of the country in 1994 till 2001.
Aimal, opened his eyes in Peshawar, went to a local school in the Peshawar town, then college and finally graduated from Peshawar University as graduate in Business Administration, Aimal has no citizenship documents either of Pakistan or Afghanistan. “Most of the nations across the western world award nationality by birth, I do not know why Pakistan is reluctant awarding me my nationality?” asks Aimal.
Aimal is a Pakhto compere for the music programs, he told he came in “love with” when he was a school going teenage and took part in stage dramas and plays at his college. He now works as freelance writer as well for music shows and sometimes television and radio programs.
Alike Aimal thousands of youths born to their Afghan parents went to school, businesses and joined their professional life in Pakistan. Speaking same language [Pakhto], having same facial features, culture, religion and blood relations socially and ethnically blended Afghan migrants in the Pakhtun populated towns of Peshawar and around makes them undistinguishable whether they are “Pakistanis or from Afghans”.
But the shift in Pakistan’s policy for resending Afghan Refugees back to their country after the Army Public School and Bacha Khan University attacks claimed by the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, changed state policies toward Afghan Refugees. As Pakistan allegedly blamed Afghanistan land used for the coordinated the attacks that resulted killing more than 132 students and staff members in APS Peshawar and more than 20 in the Bacha Khan University Charsadda.
Farida Siddiqi, 45, an Afghan lady a mother of two children who’s professionally attached to a social organization in Peshawar, married a Pakistani Pakhtun from Swat, says, “For me it would be hard to go back to Afghanistan, though, I came as a child, but I am married to someone in Swat, Matta”. She asked how she can separate from her Pakistani family.
Even though, Farida visited NADRA office a year ago for getting her CNIC [Pakistani Citizenship Identity card], when she showed her “nikkah nama”—marriage registration agreement, she was given a token and her CNIC was processed that was reportedly later blocked [for not having parents CNICs required]. “The officer told me, that dozens of women from Afghan Refugees get a male with a [nikkah nama—marriage registration agreement] and ask for CNICs, we cannot access your form because we doubt you are not married with the local person”.
Pakistan is host to 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees, told Duniya Aslam Khan, the UNHCR spokesperson for the country [Pakistan]. “In the recent Tripartite Commission meeting on 19 July in Bhurban all parties (the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR) reiterated their commitment to find sustainable solutions for more than 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees to have “voluntary repatriation with dignity”.
“A five-year national plan of action will soon be presented to the High Commission for Migration”, which integrates returnee needs within national development planning processes across responsible line by the Afghan ministries, told Duniya.
The statement released by the Afghanistan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation on the Tripartite Commission meeting held in Bhurban states that Afghanistan’s Minister of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) Sayed Hossein Alimi Balkhi stressed the importance of reinvigorated efforts to create an environment conducive for voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan, including improved access to basic services and livelihood opportunities, and land tenure reform.
“We pay gratitude to the Government and people of Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees and economic migrants for more than three decades amidst economic challenges and significant strain on the infrastructure and resources,” Afghan minister told.
While replying via mobile, Abdul Jabbar, 70, is now living in Jalalabad after being sent back to his home town after living for four decades in Pakistan. “I am concern about the jobs for my children, they used to sell vegetables and fruit and make good earnings in Peshawar, but I am concern, what will happen to them, as they are yet to search job”.
He’s also complaining to have house, as many who are returning have lost their houses in war that damaged everything, or their lands encroached by relatives who were in Afghanistan when “we lived in Pakistan”. It will take time to settle permanently, “we were ousted on emergency basis, every other day our sons were arrested and heavy payments made to the police and they spent days in prisons”.
Haroon Shinwari, a practicing lawyer at Peshawar High Court told, according to Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951, any child born to a non-Pakistani citizen on the territory of Pakistan does not automatically becomes Pakistani. Only children born to Pakistani parents (either both parents Pakistanis or just one) are Pakistanis by birth. “Pakistan has its constitution and can be reformed in regards to the Afghan Children who are born here and have grown up here in Pakistan”.
For Aimal it would be hard to leave Peshawar, the town he had adopted by birth and has made several friends and now “love every street, school, mosque, hujra [traditional guest house of Pakhtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] and all friends he made in his life”. He’s concerned of his own security while going to Khugyani district in Afghanistan. As he does not know where to live and who to be friend with and what profession he can join for earning a life.
On the other hand Farhad Ahmed Popalzai, 28, once a university student in Quetta, used to teach at his private Computer and English center, is now working in a Afghanistan International Bank in Kabul, as payroll manager and do visit and attend classes in one of the Kabul based University, as visiting lecturer. “I am happy, having a living here, and most of my friends who are here are concern about finding a job, and very few of them are given chances, as Afghanistan is not having resources to settle these young educated returnees at once”, he told via skype call from Kabul.
Farida is not concerned about life in Afghanistan, and she is of the view that those who got education in Pakistan are a good “human resource” for Afghanistan, and this four decade war destroyed country, need professional and technical human lot living as refugees outside the country. “My sisters, brothers, nephews and nieces, all are contributing to the Afghan society on its way to progress, one of my niece graduated from Botany department at Peshawar University, now a researcher in Kabul and teaches there”, says Farida.
Dilawar Khan, 60, a senior citizen of Peshawar backs the government [of Pakistan] decision for the repatriation of Afghan Refugees. “Our own population is now a burden, most of our graduates are unable to find jobs and earn a living in Pakistan, and they [locals] go after jobs to Middle East and western countries, once Afghan Returns, our youths would find space in market”.
One of the social and political activist Sanna Ejaz, who lead Shirkat Gah, a social organization in Peshawar as manager, says, “No doubt Afghan Refugees were forced to leave their country in hard times, but they contributed to our society being skilled and cheap labors”.
Most of the people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were idle, and their larger families were dependent on the piece of agrarian land they had. Rest they [locals] did not work as technical professionals. These were Afghans who encouraged them to become bakers, barbers, cobblers, and labors for offices and industries and construction work, told Sanna. “Otherwise, even today, most of the local are lazy to become low wage workers”.
Sanna told that Afghans willingly returning to their country is “fine”, but pushing them in a knee jerk reaction would be a clear violation of the UNHCR and International Laws and convention Pakistan is signee of. “I do not see Afghan Refugees involvement in crimes on street of Peshawar; even now you can observe the FIRs in the police station, very few Afghans you will find involved in crimes”.
Sanna does not see Afghan Refugees a burden over the Pakhtun society and Pakistan in general. And she is of the view, “they are free human resource we have got, and they have played important role in the development of our society, whether we acknowledge the Afghan Refugees contribution or not”.
It is “the politics that divide us [people of Afghanistan and Pakistan]”, otherwise, there should be no boundaries among people, who are same human beings, follow single religion, culture, history, heroes and blood relations and people of such relations are “hard to be separated by boundaries”, Farida told. “You can oust the Afghan Refugees from Peshawar, but Peshawar would always remain in their spirit as their first home”, says Farida.