Saturday, June 18, 2016

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Scapegoats for the Pakistani State

Moheb Arsalan J.

Relation between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a complicated love affair.  In public, both countries claim being brothers sharing cultural, linguistic and historic values; in private, their policy makers may do whatever fits their purpose for their so called “strategic interests”.  And when relations soar, Pakistan is quick to point fingers to the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and consider them to be the source of difficulties Pakistan face.  Ironic this is as Pakistan overlooks the significant contributions Afghan refugees have made and still make to the economy of Pakistan.

Nearly 5-6 million Afghan refugees left Afghanistan to live in Pakistan in the 1980s.  Most of the Afghan refugees sent relatives to the West as either immigrants or refugees.  These Afghans in the West sent in remittances to their relatives in Pakistan who spent it on housing, education, clothing and food – all rented out or bought from the Pakistani markets.  Whole new cities, such as Hayatabad in Peshawar were built to profit on the Afghan refugees’ money and need to rent houses.  

Many Afghan are traditional entrepreneurs that brought in their capital and assets to Pakistan.  Afghan businesses in carpets, precious stones, marbles and others sector directly contributing to bringing in more revenues to Pakistan.  The Pakistanis were so happy for this that they voluntarily distributed national identity cards to the Afghan Entrepreneurs.  Major objectives was to cap on the Afghans capital, entrepreneurship and profits.  And even Afghan rugs were tabbed as Made in Pakistan!  

In addition, Afghans living in Pakistan received no support from the Pakistani State either as resettlement allowances, refugee grants or food stamps!  Most Afghans have their own small businesses in which they work hard to earn a living.  Keeping the contributions to the GDP of Pakistan aside, these Afghans contribute services to the economy there as well.  

In the past 10-15 years, Pakistan has built many hospitals in Pakistan that solely run on Afghans seeking better health services in Pakistan.  Millions of dollars are spent by the Afghans in Pakistan on health care facilities that only very rich Pakistani’s could afford.  Not just hospital, Afghans uses local transportation, guest houses and medicine.  All these not for free.  

On top of these, Afghanistan also imports most of its domestic consumption needs from Pakistan reaching millions of dollars a year.  Many Pakistani and Afghan traders deal on daily basis in which Pakistan mostly receives cash and Afghans the Pakistani products albeit of a degraded import quality only.  Some of the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan facilitates these trade relations. 

But, whenever anything bad happens in Pakistan, Afghan refugees are the scapegoat to point at despite them having nothing to do with those issues and contributing so generously to that country’s economy.  And the irony is that many of the Pakistani people, frustrated with the incompetence and dictatorship of their government, agree to it and are fooled in to the propaganda.   

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