The longer the war continues in Afghanistan the
greater will be the rush of refugees
By Syed M. Aslam
Oct 22 - 28, 2001
Try, hard it may, it is impossible for Pakistan not
to feel the sympathy and to remain indifferent to the human suffering
in an already war-ravaged Afghanistan bearing the brunt of massive
destruction in the wake of US bombings. It can hardly desist from
offering solace and support to the Afghans already entered the country
or are expected to enter it en masse.
This poses serious economic problems to Pakistan
still trying to recover from years of financial indicipline and
rampant corruption on the one hand and slowdown of industrial
activities on the other for playing the role of frontline state in the
US war against terrorism at present on the other.
As is, Pakistan already houses the three-fouth of 4
million Afghans who fled Afghanistan when the then USSR invaded it
some 22 years ago and the infighting among various mujahideen groups
after the humiliating defeat and withdrawal of the former super power.
With the beginning of deadly US sorties on October 7 another 1.5
million Afghan refugees are trying to enter the country. Pakistan
which has been housing an already large number of Afghan refugees have
to absorb a greater number of them in the months to come, particularly
if the war goes on for years as US President George W. Bush has
The longer the war continues in Afghanistan the
greater will be the rush of refugees to the Pakistani borders, which
is the biggest the country have with any of its other neighbours.
Since last two decades Afghans have become a permanent fixture of
Pakistani landscape, particularly the urban centers like Karachi. The
Afghan refugees have been blamed for serious law and order threat, a
vision strengthened by their involvement in dacoities, gun running,
drug pushing etc. On the positive side the now defunct civic agencies
owe the young Afghan garbage collectors due appreciation for helping
sort out an otherwise huge quantities of garbage remained unpicked by
them throughout the city each single day.
During the Russian-Afghan war which lasted for a
decade and finished with the withdrawal of the Soviet troops the
foreign aid flowed free and thick. After that it dried down to a
negligible level forcing Pakistan to care for the huge number of
refugees from its own meager resources. With the start of attacks on
Afghanistan and turning of Pakistan into a frontline state the US and
allies have assured flow of humanitarian aid for the rufugees.
Last week the UK announced to offer 15 million
Pounds to Afghan refugees. Similarly, Japanese Ambassador in Pakistan
signed an agreement with the Country Director of World Food Programme
in Pakistan to provide $ 4.2 million in food aid to the refugees. The
question is: How far the donations go to feed a refugee population
which is not only large but is feared to grow in near future amidst
the prevalent indicators.
Influx of refugees
Some 8,000 Afghans managed to cross into Pakistan
through the Chaman border in the Balochistan province within just four
days last week. This means an average of 2,000 Afghans find their way
into Pakistan each day which translates into some 750,000 refugees a
year — a number which is expected to increase in case of a prolonged
war as the US President has indicated. According to the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees claimed last week that at least 30,000
refugees have crossed over into Balochistan in the previous 30 days
and a similar number have crossed into the North West Frontier
Province during the same period, many of them illegally due to closure
of checkposts even for humanitarian cases.
Let's convert the 15 million Pounds and the 4.2
million dollars, the monetary aid promised by the UK and Japan
respectively, to better understand how far they would go to feed the
large Afghan refugee population in Pakistan. The 15 million Pounds is
equivalent of Rs 1,357 million and 4.2 million dollars equal Rs 262
million at the going currency exchange rate on October 17. The total
package thus offer Rs 1,619 million, a amount enough to feed an
expected 4.5 million refugees for just 12 days at a minimum possible
cost of Rs 30 per day. Needless to say, while the financial assistance
offered by the two staunch US allies look impressive in reality it is
just enough to feed the refugees barely over 12 days.
In other words it is just not enough to cast a
severe strain on the national economy in addition to the other
socio-political and security problems it poses for the country. For a
country reeling from an unemployment, inflation and increasing cost of
living absorbing such a high influx of refugees poses all kinds of
problems without understating the humanitarian compassion which the
The situation is further complicated by decline in
exports after September 11 as well as slowing down of trading and
retail sales in the internal market. The looming uncertainty is taking
a heavy toll on the economy with many textile industries laying off
workers and staff due to decline in the export orders.