Non Military Threats to the Security of Pakistan -II Refugees

28 Apr, 1999    ·   188

D. Suba Chandran says refugees in Pakistan are viewed only from a humanitarian perspective overlooking social, economic and political threats posed by them to the host country

At the beginning of 1998, Pakistan registered more than 1.2 million refugees, mainly from Afghanistan . When the Afghan crisis was at its height Pakistan hosted more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees. Refugees are looked at only in a humanitarian perspective when they share an ethnic bond with the host state overlooking the social, economic and political threats posed by them to the security of the host state.



Refugees and Social Security: At the social level, the presence of Afghan refugees led to deterioration in the law and order situation, increasing violence and criminal activity, and aggravated the ethnic tensions. The Afghan refugees do not form a monolithic group, as they belong to various tribes, with different tribal laws and systems of justice. Additionally, deep-rooted tensions and conflicts exist due to group and tribal loyalties, which often result in a bloodbath. Secondly, most of the refugees possess lethal weapons, including AK-47 without any valid license; they often take law into their own hands creating serious law and order problems. Thirdly, the proliferation of small arms in Pakistani society is a direct outcome of the Afghan war and the influx of refugees. After the Soviets left Afghanistan , nearly all the lethal weapons, that the Afghans were armed with to fight the Soviets, remained in the hands of the Mujahidden, who brought them to Pakistan . These refugees sold most of their weapons to the local people at low prices, leading to an unbridled proliferation of small arms. This resulted in a situation where weapons like AK-47s were available for (Pak) Rs 8000 and even on hire.



The next cause for concern is the involvement of refugees is smuggling, especially drugs. With the various Afghan groups fighting each other and the Soviet troops, the refugees smuggled drugs throughout Pakistan to raise funds for their cause and, in the process taught the locals to cultivate poppy and to produce opium. This has led to increasing drug addiction in Pakistani society. In 1979, before the Afghan war started, there were no drug addicts in Pakistan but there are approximately 4.3 million drug addicts today. The presence of Afghan refugees has also created serious ethnic problems. Most of the refugees, ethnically Pashtoon, are settled in Baluchistan and their steady inflow has reduced Baluchi dominance in the province. The Baluchis fear that they may become a minority in their own province. Given the existing separatist emotions in the province, the presence of Afghan refugees seriously threatens its ethnic balance.



Refugees and Economic Security: The large presence of refugees has also impinged on Pakistan ’s economy. In the mid-eighties, the average amount spent per day in supporting the refugees crossed one million dollars. Though half this amount was funded by outside agencies, the remaining cost was enormous for Pakistan . The government provided food and shelter not only to the refugees but also their domestic animals - cattle, goats, and camels - whose population exceeded three million. Often, the Afghan refugees and local population have fought for the limited resources available. The willingness of Afghan refugees to work for lower wages than the locals has resulted in the locals losing their jobs and leading to local tensions. Those refugees with business acumen have become a serious threat to local businessmen.



Refugees and Political Security: At, the political level, the presence of refugees has created a large vote bank. Various political parties at the provincial and national levels, have tried to influence these refugees and have been in turn get influenced by them. Secondly, in NWFP, which is Pushtoon dominated, the presence of Pushtoon refugees has increased ethnic consciousness among the local population. Though there has been no separatist movement as in the past, this has certainly created problems for the Centre including a crisis over renaming NWFP as Pakhtunwa.



With the crisis in Afghanistan continuing, the refugee population is bound to increase, multiplying its ramifications for social, economic, environmental and political security. The only way out for Pakistan is to find a solution to the Afghan crisis, and repatriate the refugees as soon as possible.