Skip to main content

OPED: The Great Exodus


Published, Global Affairs Feb 2017

The MIG 21 parked in the Pakistan Air Force Museum Karachi is not exactly a war trophy – it belongs to an Afghan defector who flew by one day and landed at Peshawar air base sometime in 1989 / 1990. He was seeking refuge in Pakistan. There had been others before him. Three decades later, young Afghans are still seeking greener pastures – and making headlines because among them is a trailblazing female pilot who had made her nation proud but preferred to stay behind in the United States while on a training tour.

Pakistan has been doubling as Afghan nationals’ second home for over three and a half decades – hosting some 1.5 registered and 1 million unregistered. It ranks amongst the top three largest refugee communities in the world. The stream of defectors, asylum seekers, migrants and refugees kept flowing while the Reds retreated, Taliban invaded and all through the American occupation.

That surge has been unexpectedly quelled.

There’s a migrant crisis brewing in Europe while parts of South Asia prepare for a mass exodus. And Pakistan has been getting a lot of flak over its decision to curtail its hosting duties. By the end of November 2016, the number of undocumented refugees sent back had already hit 230,000. An estimated one million have been repatriated so far.

According to Newsweek, human rights activists wonder if doing so violates international laws since Afghanistan is a nation at war. Pakistan has also been under the local Taliban, (TTP’s) crosshairs since 2006. Though recent operations against insurgents have yielded results – security is still a prime concern. Refugee repatriation is part of a larger movement that includes securing the Western borders, setting up check-posts and clearing the badlands.

Incoming Afghans will be required to carry papers to cross over. Returning Pakistani tribesmen will be screened. And valid travel documents and visas will be mandatory. These measures are meant to enhance regional security and cooperation – not widen the breach. But, while Pakistan and Afghanistan’s interests in securing peace in the region may align – the shifting nature of their allegiances complicate matters. Out of this arose disagreements over trade routes, accusations of fermenting strife in their respective countries and talks of establishing air corridors with India over Pakistani airspace. These led to meetings in Moscow by China, Russia and Pakistan regarding Afghanistan’s security woes in which Kabul was pointedly left out. Demonstrations outside the Pakistan embassy in Kabul decrying the ISI came on its heels blaming the agency for facilitating the Afghan Taliban who had claimed responsibility for the string of attacks on Afghan soil.

Afghanistan is a nation struggling to emerge from the shadows of war, infighting and occupation yet spurns Pakistan’s offer of providing developmental aid ($500M). A temperamental Kabul that has aligned itself with Delhi isn’t afraid of pushing back. And Islamabad has failed to deploy its diplomatic savvy to extinguish the flames of resentment.

The mishandling of Sharbat Gula’s case by Pakistan is a case in point. The green eyed Afghan girl who made the cover of Nat Geo 30 years ago had been charged with carrying forged papers in 2016, which is a crime regardless of her iconic stature. But the subsequent incarceration of a reportedly sickly widow and deportation gave India an opening to swoop in as a savior and milk it for publicity purposes with offers of free medical treatments and hospitality.

Given that Afghanistan upgraded her status to celebrity, there’s hope that her sorry tale has a happy ending. The rest of Afghans must brace themselves for a bittersweet homecoming since there will be no red carpets rolled out for them. But that episode turned into a PR disaster for the Pakistani authorities, one that was avoidable. Such headlines dilute efforts launched to counter the anti-Pakistan propaganda.

Giving the hordes of migrants a free run of the place during the initial exodus of Afghan refugees into Pakistan in 1980 has had serious ramifications for the country. And the State must take some of the blame for the spread of drugs and the gun culture; for not restricting their movements like Iran had done by keeping them confined to camps. Since the migrants were ethnic Pashtuns, they reportedly melted among the local Pashtun community easily and settled in KPK and Balochistan. 33% registered stayed in camps – 67% roamed free.

In this case, Pakistan’s special brand of hospitality backfired. It was a misstep; as was the deplorable social media campaign painting Sharbat as a spy. Yet, regardless of their differences, a weakened Afghanistan does not serve Pakistan’s interests. Afghanistan’s resistance to enforcing border management controls and refusal to recognize the Durand Line, however, does serve the Taliban / ISIS / Daesh backed agenda. And notwithstanding the Sharbat Gula faux pas, Pakistan’s rationale for deporting undocumented Afghan nationals however has merit because the free passage makes it harder to curb cross border terrorism.

The State has reportedly poured a hundred billion dollars on Afghan visitors’ well-being including education, health-care, food and shelter. It has also extended the repartition date till March 2017. At this point the new years’ greetings sent by Pak Army Chief and an invitation to visit Afghanistan extended by the Afghan leadership may be the only signs that the tide may be shifting. President Ashraf Ghani, their firebrand leader once penned a manifesto - ‘Fixing Failed States – A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World’. He should appreciate more than anybody else the urgency of resolving the Afghan refugee crisis; and bringing them home safely could be a major step in fulfilling his vision.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

BOOK REVIEW: Outclass Teams: Secrets of Building High-Performance, Result-Oriented Teams / Author: Qaiser Abbas

Thanks to Possibilities Publications for the review copy

Published by Daily Times / Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Runaway Teams beware. Qaiser Abbas is an organisational psychologist, author of books like the Tik Tok Dollar and the upcoming Leadership Insights — and one canny facilitator who introduced Pakistan to the concept of ‘Management by Adventure’, or as he likes to call it, MBA. His mission of rescuing wayward teams from doom makes him dash in and out of companies on a regular basis. Prompted by the success of such expeditions, he proceeds to refine these insights for a book on team-building and a lecture on group dynamics.

As someone who specialised in using experiential learning methodology in outdoor training, Abbas swears by well-structured one-day team-building programmes over time spent bonding over social activities. His recent book takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon to determine the value of team-building, show the expertise needed to ensure…

KARACHI DIARIES: MASTERCHEF Comes to Pakistan

Published in Economic Affairs / May 2014 P-20

Last year ‘MasterChef Australia’ S04 contestant came to town. Amina Elshafei, described as an ‘unassuming young lady from Sydney’, had been brought in by the Australian High Commissioner’s office and spread the joy of fusion cooking as part of her good-will mission. Around the same time unconfirmed rumors that MasterChef was headed to Pakistan were floating around. By April 2014, the rumors had officially been laid to rest.


‘MasterChef Pakistan’ is set to go on air by 3rd May 2014. The press conference in AVARI (Karachi) threw together an elegant presentation topped off by a divine hi-tea. The MasterChef franchise is already a household favorite, and makes everyone a judge of culinary prowess, and the lead authority on cuisine. Sidra Iqbal, the host for the evening, had also noted this amusing trend, listing Pakistani food as the ultimate source of drama.


His Excellency, the Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Peter Heyworth while …

BOOK REVIEW: Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, February 26, 2011
Under the Title: A Play-book for Losers
Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal
Author: Rujuta Diwekar

Master: “You are free to eat.”

Po: “Am I?”

Master: “Are you?” —
Dialogue from Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Po, the Kung Fu Panda, doubted his mentor/master much like readers will doubt a nutritionist guru when she hands over an exclusive pass to eat and, yet, maintain a strategic advantage in the fight against fat.

They need not.

A thriving industry feeds off of ignorance about weight-related issues. And when health and happiness become collateral damage in the mad dash for the finish line, it is time to alter the game plan.

‘Nutritionist to the stars’ Rujuta makes this lonely trek to the promised land a joyful experience where food is not the enemy, and learning the art of making better judgment calls is on the menu. Since she labels the struggle with weight loss a tamasha (spectacle) at the very outset, r…