November issue 2018
Should Afghan and Bengali refugees be given citizenship status?
Aquila Ismail is the author of Of Martyrs and Marigolds and an activist.
Let us begin in 1947. Six million men, women and children – Punjabis, Bengalis, Biharis and others – crossed lines that had been hastily drawn by representatives of a crumbling empire, over which the sun allegedly never set. Yet it eventually did – to the sounds of the midnight chimes. Based on religious identity, Indian and Pakistani citizens were created.
Before the Great Partition, was the drawing of the Durand Line by a colonial master of the same ilk. It divided the Pashtuns and the Baloch and created the buffer state of Afghanistan, between Russia and British territories. This very line, in a slightly modified form, is the present-day border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It thereby renders some as Afghanis and others as Pakistanis.
Fast forward to 1971, when Bangladesh rose from the ashes of war. The Urdu-speaking Pakistanis ousted by the erstwhile Bengali-speaking Pakistanis, once again made the trek over borders and boundaries drawn by the Pucca Saheb, to regain their citizenship as Pakistanis. Bengali-speakers of West Pakistan, meanwhile, made the inverse journey, to become Bangladeshis.
Some members of every group that made these journeys remained in the land of their birth, thereby creating the so-called ‘minorities.’ They comprised Pakistani minorities in the slums of Bangladesh and Bangladeshi minorities in the ghettos of Pakistan. The Afghan minority, of course, landed in refugees camps, ironically resisting both the Russians and the British, against whom they were to be a buffer.
So, now, who is to say what status of citizenship will befall the Afghans, Bengalis, Punjabis, Baloch and Pashtun in the future? My parents are a witness to 1947. Along with them, I am a witness to 1971. The persons who work with me in Orangi, are witness to the mayhem that wars have wrought.
So ask not for whom the bell tolls… as post-materialists will say, we are, one and all, citizens of planet earth. An earth we are destroying at an amazing rate. Soon there will be no humans, no citizens; for it is only humans that confine themselves to borders and boundaries while constantly changing both. How about we spend the time we have left, in peace and sisterhood, before being submerged and returning to the plastic-ridden waters.
Adnan Aamir is the Editor of Balochistan Voices and a researcher.
In September, Prime Minister Imran Khan shocked everyone by announcing that he would grant citizenship to Afghan and Bangladeshi refugees born in Pakistan. While the issue of Bengali refugees is Karachi-centric, approximately 1.5 million Afghan refugees would benefit from the proposed plan. Incidentally, a large portion of Afghan refugees live in Balochistan. Therefore, quite justifiably, the political leadership of Balochistan has unequivocally rejected that they be given Pakistani citizenship.
Afghan refugees are the bone of contention in the politics of Balochistan. The jobs, financial resources and parliamentary seats in the province are distributed among the Baloch and the Pashtun, based on population figures. If the Afghan refugees, who are overwhelmingly Pashtun, are granted citizenship, then this will result in the Baloch losing their stakes in Balochistan.
The prime minister cannot grant citizenship to Afghan refugees without taking the dynamics of Balochistan into consideration.
Every country takes its interests into account prior to granting citizenship to refugees. Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the last 30 years. Politically and economically, however, Pakistan cannot afford to grant them citizenship. There are economically prosperous countries which still do not accept refugees, owing to the interests of their own people. The Gulf countries are an example. They do so to prevent their people from turning into a minority. Japan, the third largest economy of the world, with a population of about 126 million, only accepted 100 refugees in the last five years. If Japan can refuse refugees citizenship for the sake of its own citizens, why can’t Pakistan do the same?
Pakistan’s Citizenship Act of 1951 guarantees citizenship to Afghan refugees born in the country. This is a classic example of selective application of the law to the detriment of the people of the smaller provinces. The Constitution states that through the 18th Amendment, Balochistan will have full control of all mineral projects such as Saindak. That law, however, was never implemented. The right thing to do would be to amend the Citizenship Act of 1951 to protect the interests of Balochistan.
Salam Dharejo is a development professional and a freelance journalist.
The prime minister’s promise to grant citizenship to Pakistani-born children of Afghan and Bengali refugees, has rekindled hope among the millions of refugees who have been living in a state of fear and insecurity for decades. On the other hand, however, the announcement has triggered anger among nationalist forces in Sindh and Balochistan, who are opposing the decision.
The issue of millions of Afghan and Bangladeshi refugees could have been resolved through political dialogue and the legislative process, a long time ago. But none of the previous governments – elected, or non-civilian – took it seriously. And now, the issue is becoming a serious socio-political concern that could provoke ethnic rivalry and social unrest in both Sindh and Balochistan.
It is estimated that there are over 2.3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and a majority of them reside in Balochistan and Karachi. All the Afghan immigrants in Pakistan enjoy the status of refugees and according to an UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) agreement, all refugees will go back to their respective countries once peace is restored. Efforts have been carried out by the Pakistan government, with the support of the UNHCR, to send Afghan refugees back to their homeland. However, with the exception of a few hundred thousand families who returned to Afghanistan, a majority of them are still residing in Pakistan.
Baloch nationalists are of the opinion that if Afghan refugees are granted citizenship, the Baloch will ultimately be reduce to a minority in their own province.
Additionally, there are more than two million Bangladeshi immigrants in Karachi and a majority of them are stateless. According to the Pakistan Citizenship Act of 1951, “Every person born in Pakistan after the commencement of this Act shall be a citizen of Pakistan by birth.” The problem with Bangladeshi immigrants is that they are unable to provide evidence that they have been living in Pakistan for several years and that their children were born and raised in this country. Consequently, a majority of them lack citizenship and neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh is willing to recognise them as citizens.
Sindhi nationalists are of the view that if millions of immigrants from Afghanistan and Bangladesh are given citizenship rights, the resulting demographic change in Karachi will lead to a political crisis. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) too does not endorse Imran Khan’s decision.
Keeping in view the importance of the refugee problem in Pakistan, there is a need to initiate political dialogue and build a national consensus to avoid ethnic rivalry in the country and to address the humanitarian problem of millions of immigrants who are living without any rights.
Murtaza Solangi is a broadcast journalist based in Islamabad and a former director-general of Radio Pakistan.
The announcement that Bengali and Afghan refugees born in Pakistan (approximately two million in number), are to be granted NICs and passports, drew a polarised response. Later, in the National Assembly, Imran Khan almost made a U-turn, arguing that it was a mere suggestion. But by then it was already too late. The controversy had begun.
The Afghan and Bengali youth living in Karachi’s shanty towns, with no access to education, employment, or banking services, have little hope. Some Bengalis have been here for almost half a century, ever since the fall of Dhaka, while some Afghanis for a good four decades, since the Afghan War.
Going by the laws of the land, according to the 1951 Citizenship Act, all those born in Pakistan are entitled to the country’s citizenship – with a few exceptions. Nevertheless, the Bengalis and Afghans have been denied the same, mainly because of political opposition. Sindhis decry the suggestion for fear of being reduced to a minority within their own province. The establishment, meanwhile, believes that Afghan children pose a security threat on the grounds that India is investing in them in order to hurt Pakistan. Afghans are also used as a bargaining chip, when they are repatriated to their homeland in a bid to decrease alleged Indian influence in Pakistan by exerting pressure on the Afghan government.
During Benazir Bhutto’s second government, attempts were made for the forced repatriation of Bengalis to Bangladesh, when the country was ruled by Khaleda Zia. Strong opposition within Pakistan, from Nawaz Sharif and the religious parties in 1995, forced Bhutto’s hand. But that was then. Today, Bangladesh’s economy is stronger than Pakistan’s and many Bengalis have found their way back to their homeland.
The Afghan youth and the Bengali youth in particular, have little hope. Denied any semblance of a dignified life or access to government jobs, education and health facilities, many have joined criminal gangs and are prone to be used by Pakistan’s enemies as pawns in the proxy wars that are in full throttle in the region.
The only sensible solution to the human catastrophe would be to formulate a state policy that is grounded in humanitarian principles and minimises the threats posed to the state. Giving these youth access to the state system alone would solve many problems. In the case of the Afghan youth, we should think about granting them dual citizenship – of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As much as it would hurt nationalist sentiments, Sindh has, historically, been a melting pot of ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity. This has been one of its strengths. The land of Sufis must show its humane face and give these refugees hope instead of fear. I do not agree with most of the things Imran Khan says these days, but this is one thing I do agree on – despite him having backed out of it.
Khadim Hussain is the author of The Militant Discourse, Re-thinking Education: Critical Discourse, and the Urdu novel Pagdandi.
The global refugee crisis and the debate over it have led many to rally in favour of a humanitarian approach towards the problem. There is a widespread awareness and understanding that the scarred hearts of families that have become displaced, whether due to natural, or man-made disasters, must be healed.
The 1951 Citizenship Act of Pakistan, the 1951 Convention of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the 1967 Protocol of UNHCR, all promote the right of safe rehabilitation, naturalisation and integration.
In addition to all the international conventions and protocols on refugees, Amnesty International proclaims, “Refugees must not be forced to return to a country where they are at risk of human rights abuses. They must be resettled when they are in a vulnerable situation. They must not be discriminated against. They must have access to work, be housed and be educated. They must be allowed to move freely, and keep their own identity and travel documents.”
The saga of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is a unique one. The Afghans were forced to leave their homeland at the start of the 1980s, after the military of the then Soviet Union entered Afghanistan. Those were the days of ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union, supported by almost the entire world. The refugee camps were breeding grounds for mujahideen (fighters). The Gulf states, the US and Europe generously supported the process of turning muhajireen (refugees) into mujahideen. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, a devastating civil war began in Afghanistan.
Pakistan supported the emergence of the Taliban during the civil war, while Europe and the US turned the other cheek. The Republic of Afghanistan was, literally, dissolved during that period. When the Taliban oligarchy was eliminated after 9/11, their leadership reportedly regrouped in different parts of Pakistan around 2004 and started its armed campaign against a government that had come into being after the Bonn Conference of 2001. Hence, conflict in Afghanistan continued unabatedly for the last four decades, for which the international community and the countries of the region must share responsibility.
Thousands of Afghan families have been living mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Balochistan and Karachi for generations due to their linguistic and ethnic affinity with the locals. A majority of the Afghans have been working as entrepreneurs locally. Their productivity has contributed to growth at the local level. In return, the provincial and federal governments of Pakistan remained reluctant, for the most part, to even bestow basic, internationally-recognised rights upon them. The integration and naturalisation of the Afghans will lead to an enhanced bilateral trade regime
with Afghanistan. This will be the paradigm shift from geo-politics to geo-economics that will help in fighting militancy, extremism and terrorism in the region.