Pakistan's Afghan refugees are easy scapegoats


Pakistan's Afghan refugees are easy scapegoats

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The impotence of the international community is not news. Evidence of its inadequacy can be found throughout history, and a standout day was August 15, 2021. The US dusted Afghanistan from their bloodied hands and took flight, leaving behind a hellish landscape that people were so desperate to escape, they clung on to plane tires. The war metaphors write themselves, and the value of Afghan lives could not be more starkly demonstrated than the two tiny dots plummeting to their deaths from the sky. You could be forgiven for thinking it was just a rogue pixel on your screen.

And now, over two years later, Afghan life remains the currency that the region plays politics with. This month, mass deportations of ‘undocumented’ Afghan refugees from Pakistan began. An unelected caretaker government is sending 1.7 million people back to Afghanistan, that is currently under the rule of the Taliban – the very group that the US invaded the country to remove from power in 2001. Many of them have never stepped foot inside Afghanistan. Some have been living and working in Pakistan for decades. Others fear for their lives, considering the deportation a one-way journey to their assured demise. There is a reason why the UN High Commission for Refugees has repeatedly issued non-return advisories for Afghan asylum seekers. 

The Taliban’s human rights abuses are well-documented and public. . For Afghan refugees, being afraid to go back is not paranoia. It is rooted in a well-founded instinct to survive.  Even the most cursory interpretation of the principle of non refoulement is being infringed by Pakistan’s move to send them back. 

Pakistan is beholden to aid, mired in a multilayered economic crisis, and crippled by political machinations that seem geared towards benefiting a select few and not the country. Our resources are no match for our burgeoning population. Pakistan was never going to be able to adequately manage the influx. And while it is not innocent in why Afghanistan is where it is today, it is not the sole culprit.

There is now the growing realization that international law, human rights standards and the liberal world order were never designed to withstand pressure from power and money.

Rimmel Mohydin

It is estimated that anywhere between 600,000 and 800,000 Afghans migrated to Pakistan after August 2021. The US has resettled only 97,000. The UK has taken 21,600. The European Union – that dangles the GSP+ preferential trading status conditional upon human rights compliance – has resettled a paltry, laughable 271 people. They collectively spent $2.49 trillion on military operations in Afghanistan, only to leave behind the very same regime and a worsened refugee crisis. Money does seem to only spend well in matters of war, and never to improve the lives of the impoverished.

So, consider why Afghans are being forced to go back, and why now. We know that the caretaker government’s extraordinarily long stint is there to absorb the fallout from unpopular moves. We also know that Pakistan’s hospitality has curbed since August 2021, and sending them back in this grotesque fashion – which includes putting them in containers and “Afghan Transit Centers’ - is sadly, on trend. We know that the relationship between the two countries is fraught and sour, so much so that strangely, the acting prime minister of the Taliban called upon Pakistani authorities to “solve their problems with us through negotiations” and “not mistreat refugees.” 

Are the Afghan refugees the scapegoats to cushion the blow from the collective failure of post 9/11 counter-terrorism strategies, the lowest hanging fruit to lay at the altar of shrewd fiscal policy, proactive governance and bolstered national security? They certainly are the right skin colour and religion to demonize in the West. They are the easiest to blame, and the quickest to lose their place in international headlines.

And now, as a reckoning takes place the world over, appeals to humanity are of no use. Moral clarity has been devalued to an inconvenience, flattened by pundits who keep saying: “It’s complicated.” With Israel’s relentless pursuit of the erasure of Palestinians by any means necessary, conventions, UN resolutions and the laws of war seem to hold less weight than the leafy binders that compile them all. There are few consequences for ignoring them, and even fewer for flagrantly violating them. 

There is now the growing realization that international law, human rights standards and the liberal world order were never designed to withstand pressure from power and money. The international community was never more than an idea. In reality, these are just small minds in big rooms. They make the rules and decide when they apply-- except they are never the same for everyone. 

— Rimmel Mohydin is a human rights, communications and advocacy expert.

She tweets @Rimmel_Mohydin.

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