In ‘mini Kabul’, Afghan refugees mark 40 years in Pakistan

It is a grim milestone for entire generations of families who fled war to create a life in Pakistan, but still face an uncertain future and no clear path to citizenship. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2020

In ‘mini Kabul’, Afghan refugees mark 40 years in Pakistan

  • Guterres will visit Islamabad for a conference
  • Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world

PESHAWAR: Afghan boys sell fresh fruit on carts, signs are written in Dari or Pashto, and restaurants in the bustling bazaar sell Afghan dishes such as Kabuli pulao.
But this “mini Kabul” is in Pakistan, which this week marks 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees.
It is a grim milestone for entire generations of families who fled war to create a life in Pakistan, but still face an uncertain future and no clear path to citizenship.
“We spent an entire life here,” says Niaz Mohammed, a 50-year-old laborer from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province who fled to Pakistan in the 1980s.
“We had weddings and marriages here, our kids were born here ... We have jobs and work here, while there’s no peace in Afghanistan. That’s why we are happy here.”
On Sunday UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will arrive in Islamabad for a conference the United Nations says will “send a global reminder about the fate of millions of Afghans living as refugees.”
“The main challenge right now is to continue to provide support to Pakistan in hosting them ... and also give access to skills and education for the young Afghan population here,” Indrika Ratwatte, Asia director of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP on Friday.
Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Many live in camps, while others have built lives for themselves in Pakistan’s cities, paying rent and contributing to the economy.
“Mini Kabul,” the bustling Refugee Market in the northwestern city of Peshawar is home to some 5,000 shops — all run by Afghan refugees.
But their status has always been temporary, with deadlines set for them to leave Pakistan repeatedly pushed back as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens.
Many Pakistanis view them with suspicion, accusing them of spurring militancy and criminality, and calling for them to be sent home.
Even those who have spent decades in the country cannot own property or obtain identity cards, and were only recently allowed to open bank accounts.
Shortly after he came to power, Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to grant them citizenship — but the controversial promise sparked outrage, and has not been spoken of since.
Nevertheless, many of the refugees who spoke to AFP in Peshawar recently said they love their adopted home.
Javed Khan, 28, was born in Pakistan, has married a Pakistani woman and has three sons of his own.
“I will leave only if Pakistan forces me,” he told AFP.
The situation could yet change: Afghanistan may be about to take the first step on the long road to peace.
Late Thursday the US said it has secured a seven-day reduction in violence in the country that it hopes will allow it to strike a deal with the Taliban, as President Donald Trump said a peace accord was “very close.”
Such a deal would allow Washington to begin withdrawing troops, in return for security guarantees from the Taliban and a promise to begin peace talks with the Afghan government.
However refugees were skeptical about what it would mean for them.
Mohammed Feroz, who came to Pakistan just over 40 years ago from Kabul, now runs a cloth shop in “mini Kabul.”
Sitting in a chair at the front of his shop, he said he supported the withdrawal of US troops — but was leery of US and Taliban motivations.
“They are after their interest. No one cares about us, God is the only hope for us,” he said.
Even if peace comes, most refugees said that they would prefer to stay in Pakistan, where they can support their families.
In the Khurasan refugee camp outside Peshawar an estimated 5,000 refugees live in poverty.
Yaseen Ullah, 26, collects scrap and sells it to junkyards. His family — his mother, four brothers, and four sisters — share a two-room mud house with no plumbing.
They also came from Nangarhar province across the border — and, despite the harshness of life in the camp, are not eager to go back.
“I have no job, no work in Afghanistan. So what will I do there?” Ullah asked.
Mohammad, the laborer from Nangarhar, agreed.
“I have to feed my family, my kids,” the father of seven, all born in the camp, told AFP, speaking Pashto with a Pakistani accent.
“I am saying it from my heart and I am very clear on it, that I will prefer to stay here. I do not want to return.”


Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

Updated 27 February 2020

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

  • Uneasy calm prevailing in northeast Delhi
  • Modi government blames opposition for violence

NEW DELHI: At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.
The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.
“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”
At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.
“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.
New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.
As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.
Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.
“The investigation is on,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.
For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and Internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.
Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.