Islamabad - On state level, Pakistan and Afghanistan could be seen locking horns for decades now over various issues given birth to by the Durand Line, including the Taliban insurgency.  Afghan nationals residing inside Pakistan, who have a sword of repatriation hanging over their heads, however, have altogether different issues on their minds, the primary being how to survive, no matter, inside Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The poor souls lost their homes to the turmoil visiting their homeland in the aftermath of the former USSR invasion. They were welcomed in Pakistan with brotherly warmth and stationed in designated camps. Later, as the war in Afghanistan stretched long, they felt fed up with the restrained lives in camps and spread to various towns and cities of Pakistan. Though they had been teased by local police and stigmatised by general public, yet they were happy they were successful to earn their bread and butter by their own, instead of relying on foreign aids.

However, after reinventing life in Pakistan’s cities and town, living there for over three decades now, they are once again being pushed back into Afghanistan with the state might despite the fact that Pakistan is signatory to the international protocol under which a refugee once awarded the status could not be repatriated until he or she voluntarily chooses to do so.

“We have no complaints against Pakistan, in fact we will always pray for this magnificent country, a father and mother to us poor, a paradise to live in compared to the harsh weather patterns and scarcity of resources in Afghanistan,” an elderly Afghan, almost 70, said.

Abdul Qadir Khan migrated to Pakistan 35 years ago and settled in Rawalpindi after living for several years in camps. During the years, situation in Afghanistan aggravated with each passing day making it unfeasible for the refugees to go back home. “We feel our brothers want us to leave now, and we would surely leave, because we have no intentions to grab or claim anything belonging to our brothers, but the only thing we are pleading for is to send us back with kindness and love,” Abdul Qadir said.

What Abdul Qadir meant was to be given enough time to arrange livelihood for themselves inside Afghanistan. “Our lands have been occupied, we would have to reclaim our properties, we would have to regroup back to face those armed gangs of grabbers,” he said.

He said Afghan government badly failed to provide assistance to the refugees repatriated during the last year. Several of them have been reported dead due to harsh weather and starvation, he said.

Abdul Qadir posses a Proof of Registration (POR) card, popularly known as “muhajir card”, which saves him and his family from forceful repatriation. Furthermore, the card holders are also assisted financially by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the wake of repatriation. But the fact is that the number of Afghan nationals having no such documents has always been bigger than the legal refugees. Several of such refugees have even no means to pay for the transportation charges to shift to their country.

Zalmay, one such refugee living in Islamabad’s suburbs, wanted to sell the broken bricks of his shabby house to pay for the transport cost of repatriation. Failing for long, a local bought the useless bricks for Rs 20,000 to please Allah. Zalmi had left for Afghanistan the following week.

Sultan, who owns a water tanker as a source of income, wants to sell the tractor and tanker so that to manage for the expenditures of early days of stay in Afghanistan. He said locals expected Afghan repatriates to sell their possessions at throw away prices, due to which he was so far unable to sell the vehicle and the tanker.

He also pleaded to Pakistani authorities to show compassion regarding their repatriation instead of pushing them forcefully.

–The writer is a member of staff.