Afghan Refugee Crisis and Options for Pakistan

The Taliban have reclaimed their throne after two decades of fighting. As a result, various complexities have risen among which the principal is the burgeoning refugee crisis. Disturbing videos have begun to surface where Afghans are seen dropping from the sky in failed attempts to leave Afghanistan with US airplanes. Amid chaos at the airport followed by halted flight operations, the spillover of refugees around Afghan borders will be very likely.

The burgeoning refugee crisis in Afghanistan is a result of two major factors; the unilateral US withdrawal sans consensus with regional stakeholders and the Taliban exploiting the situation and capitalizing on US disinterest in Afghanistan. This has resulted in an inevitable refugee crisis that will engulf regional countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Tajikistan, and the likes. Such spillover of the Afghan fiasco will have huge implications for a country like Pakistan.

Pakistan is a country with a volatile economy, barely struggling to come out of the impact of the war on terror. With a burgeoning refugee crisis, the economy will further come under threat as FDI dries up. Furthermore, refugees from across the border will also overburden the existing resources and will add to the insecurities of water, food, and job shortages. The unplanned urban localities of Pakistan are already on the brink of falling apart.

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In addition to this, a refugee crisis will exacerbate the national security crisis faced by Pakistan. The country has fought tooth and nail against terrorism and militancy since 2001. It is estimated that terrorists belonging to TTP, Al Qaeda and IS number over 7,000 and are based in Afghan territory across the border from Pakistan. They can easily seek refuge in refugee camps and slip into Pakistan.

The government of Pakistan has recently proposed to implement the ‘Iran Model’ of refugee settlement. As per this, buffer zones will be created near the border region and refugees will be confined to those spaces blocking their entry into Pakistan. Although the solution seems like a viable approach in tackling the refugee crisis, it is easier said than done. Pak Afghan border, or the Durand Line, spans over 2600 km in length, most of which is porous. Despite border fencing efforts going on in full swing, keeping refugees confined to buffer zones will be a tough road to hoe, considering Pakistan’s inexperience in this task.

With such consequential implications, the options for Pakistan are limited. In order to find a viable solution to the burgeoning refugee crisis issue, Pakistan must seek help from international donor agencies. It should communicate with UNHCR to donate resources in order to prepare. Besides this, Pakistan should complete the fencing of the Pak Afghan border on a war footing to avoid slipping terrorists into its territory.

Apart from this, all stakeholders in the region should be kept in the loop. Pakistan must organize a regional conference and invite Afghan neighbors to discuss the refugee crisis. It must also forge an approach where refugees are equally shared in order to prevent overburdening of any one country. Lastly, Pakistan must also stick to its policy of non-interference in Afghan turmoil and forge friendly relations with the new government. It must also invest all energies in ensuring economic security and integrating Afghanistan into China-led economic infrastructure avenues.

Since 2001, Pakistan has been home to 3 million Afghan refugees, most of whom have been granted citizenship. However, this came at a great cost where the impacts were felt in economic, social, and security domains. Afghanistan is once again helming towards turmoil. History is repeating itself for Pakistan with worse implications, this time, we must act before it is too late.

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