Afghans in Pakistan Plight, Predicament and the Way Forward

Afghans in Pakistan Plight, Predicament and the Way Forward

In order to gather perspectives on the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, challenges in reaching the pragmatic solutions to the problem, and viable recommendations, a one-day roundtable conference on “Afghans in Pakistan: Plight, Predicament and the Way Forward” was organized on April 22, 2009. The roundtable was broken down into Inaugural Session, Working Session and Concluding Session.


Activity: Public Seminar
  • Mian Raza Rabbani, PPP, Member Senate of Pakistan
  • Prof. Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, Senator, Jamaat-e Islami
  • Prof. Khurshid Ahmad,  Chairman, Institute of Policy Studies.
  • Asad Durrani, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) former DG ISI
  • H. E. Oybek Arif Usmanov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan
  • Hokuto Kaya, First Secretary Embassy of Japan
  • Mukhtar Shrifovich, Counsellor, Embassy of Tajikistan.
  • Marcus Von Essen, Embassy of Germany.
  • Temur Djalilov, Second Secretary, Embassy of Uzbekistan.
  • Eric Hawthorn, Social Development Advisor, DFID.
  • Massoumeh Farman Famaian, Ms. External Relations Officer, UNHCR.
  • Leonard Dill, ICRC
  • Murad Ullah, Associate Legal Officer, UNHCR.
  • Fasih Uddin, former Chief Economist, Government of Pakistan.
  • Abdul Malik Baloch, Senator, National Party.
  • Khurram Dastagir Khan, Engr. Member National Assembly, PML-N.
  • Dr.  Shireen M. Mazari, Spokesperson, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
  • Ayaz Wazir, Ambassador (Retd.).
  • Saad Muhammad, Brig (Retd.).
  • Pervaiz, Brig. (Retd.)


  • Rustam Shah Mohmand, Ambassador (Retd.).
  • Tayyeb Siddiqui, Ambassador (Retd.).
  • Tariq Fatemi, Ambassador (Retd.).
  • Basir Yosufzai, Attaché, Embassy of Afghanistan.
  • Rahimullah Yousazai, Resident Editor, The News Int., Peshawar.
  • Sana Danish, Ms. South Asian Strategic Stability Institute.
  • Kenichi Majemoto, Embassy of Japan.
  • Aman UIllah Khan, former president, RCCI.
  • Igor Pavlovsky, Third Secretary, Embassy of the Russia.
  • Mark Tattersatall First Secretary, Australian High Commission.

Chief Guests:

  • Muhammad Azam Khan Swati, Federal Minister for Science and Tech.
  • Qamar uz Zaman Kaira, Federal Minister for Information and Media Dev.
Chair: Akram Zaki, former Secretary General of Foreign Affairs.
In order to gather perspectives on the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, challenges in reaching the pragmatic solutions to the problem, and viable recommendations, a one-day roundtable conference on “Afghans in Pakistan: Plight, Predicament and the Way Forward” was organized on April 22, 2009. The roundtable was broken down into Inaugural Session, Working Session and Concluding Session.
 The participants comprised a cross-section of stakeholders representing the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, national political parties, international agencies and relief organizations, military officials and civil society, media organizations, intelligentsia, academics, and the Afghan Refugees residing in Pakistan.
A summary of the discussion is as follows:
The exact number of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan is unclear. There are 1.7 million registered refugees but the number of unregistered refugees could be much higher. They have families settled here, businesses or employment, and better civic amenities. Most Afghan refugees were in fact born in Pakistan. There is always a group that fears the Afghan regime in power. For these reasons, Most Afghans do not plan to repatriate at all.
 Pakistani authorities are making it harder for Afghan refugees to live in Pakistan. Camps have been closed, which has made it harder to monitor refugees’ activities. There are restrictions on Afghans’ movement. Law enforcement agencies harass Afghans, especially when investigating terror incidents. Most of the residents of the camps accused of incubating violence were women and children. In such circumstances, Afghans have to resort to desperate measures, sometimes with tragic results. Afghan children can no longer find admission in many educational institutions.
If the next generation of Afghan refugees is denied education, the problem will become bigger. A large number of madaris cropped up to cater to refugees’ children and have been found to be peaceful in general. Most Afghan refugees are indeed peaceful and it would be counterproductive to forcefully repatriate them.
 The number of Afghan refugees is not very big, considering the growth rate of the Pakistani population. While their presence is a burden on the country’s infrastructure, they were also contributing to the country’s economic activity for example by imparting to local farmers their expertise in arid agriculture. They have taken up unwanted jobs, especially in construction, expanded transportation, and contributed foreign exchange in the form of export earnings as well as remittances.
 Pakistan should maintain its erstwhile policy of generous accommodation, and not treat Afghans with undue suspicion as it confronted the current wave of terrorism. Instead, efforts should be made to mainstream them in Pakistani society so that they have an incentive to live peacefully and help build their new country.
Dual citizenship should be considered, as well as the option of shifting refugees to a third country. Once the refugees’ future status is clear, it will be easier to request aid for them accordingly. The problem should be managed in the context of a comprehensive migration management system, which the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) can help the government to develop. The UN and international community should assist Islamabad not only in the support of legitimate refugees but also in preventing the illegal migrants entering Pakistan.
 Pakistan’s National legislation currently excludes the possibility for Afghans to become citizens of the country. Administrative measures for the look-after of Afghan refugees have been ad hoc. The Government of Pakistan needs to clarify its position regarding the possibility of naturalizing Afghan refugees.
While the issue of Afghans is emotive and often seen in the context of Islamic brotherhood, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have tended to be unfriendly. Afghanistan still does not accept the Durand Line as the border between the two countries. No doubt there are humanitarian grounds against the repatriation of Afghan refugees, Pakistan needs to prioritize its own concerns.
The links of Afghans with the security problems in Pakistan cannot be ignored and an emphasis on repatriation of refugees should therefore be a part of the government’s anti-terror strategy.
Pakistan needs to treat the refugee problem within the broader framework of its foreign policy. It should maintain relations of trust with all neighboring countries. For this, Pakistan’s foreign policy needs to be freed from US influence.
Pakistan should not have signed the agreement regarding refugees with the UN and Afghanistan because the US and NATO, the de fecto rulers in Afghanistan, are not a party to it. Repatriation should be managed under the broader framework of creating security and economic opportunities in Afghanistan. Pakistan has not signed the Geneva Protocol on Refugees and is therefore not bound to host Afghan refugees.
 The issue of Afghan refugees should be resolved in a future-oriented manner and in the light of present realities; past policies should be reviewed for the purpose of correcting mistakes. Islamabad’s policies cannot simply ignore Afghanistan; the two countries have to develop mutual trust to coexist peacefully. For the refugees, a new realistic and sustainable solution needs to be found, incorporating all the different points of view.
The government of Pakistan wishes to help Afghan refugees but does not have resources. The international community, especially the United Nations, should renew its assistance for Afghan refugees. The refugee problem will persist until US-NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan and the country becomes stable and secure. More effort is needed to separate aggressive Afghan elements from the peaceful majority of refugees.
The Government of Pakistan needs to become proactive, and allow its internal policy to dictate its foreign policy rather than vice versa. This approach would in itself empower and strengthen the government against external pressure.
A book based on the proceedings of the conference has been published and is available in the market.



Share this post