By Agha Iqrar Haroon
The politics of the 50s to 90s in Pakistan were surely the politics of “Left Wing/Right Wing” narratives influenced by the communist movement, Hassan Muhammed al-Banna’s political thoughts and political romanticism of the 60s that reinforced thought-provoking, philosophical debates steered by “Question More” but none of such philosophical pleasures survived in Pakistan by the time when the world entered into 21st century because questioning was forcefully crushed in Pakistan thereby left no rooms for debates and discussions.
One must appreciate political entities like JUI, Jamaat-e-Islami, and MQM to execute the “empty minds” agenda that was the foremost demand of the then-state’s narrative. The slogans like “Asia Sabz Hai (Asia is Green—ref to Islamisation) and Asia Surkh Hai (Asia is Red-ref to Communism thoughts) lost parity when the State categorically stood with Asia Sabz Hai because it was needed for Islamic Jihad written on the wall.
In the early 80s, the most popular debate moved around the subject of the consequences of the State’s decision to open gates for flooding Afghan Jihadis and Afghan refugees who were encroaching social norms under the state-sponsored narrative of “Muhajirun and Insar”. Within the next three decades, everybody realized that Muhajirun under state patronage successfully made Pakistan a radicalized, intolerant society equipped with sophisticated weapons and drugs. It became evident by the year 2000 that the architects of this new Pakistan realized that the experiment was too expensive and the paid amount in US$ was too less than it should have been. It was late indeed because reversal narratives like “Enlightened Moderation” miserably failed because the process of social engineering is usually irreversible. Some sane voices had loudly and fearlessly been questioning and criticizing the urbanization of Afghan refugees and such voices were mostly from former N.W.F.P (now called K.P.K) and Sindh. Awami National Party (ANP), Sindhi nationalists, human rights organizations such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and even the Aurat Foundation were vocal about the issue. Nobody could ever imagine that all liberal components would take a 180-degree U-turn in the future when the State could take any practical and tangible actions to send illegal Afghan refugees back to their country. So-called liberals like me were physically beaten and socially subjugated by promising youth of religious outfits like Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI because we were claiming that Afghans would surely tarnish the peaceful and tolerant society of Pakistan. Surely we lost 1970s Pakistan forever but it is never too late and the state is now trying to recover from what is lost under the experimentation of Afghan Jihad that was the “requirements of the then era”.
People like me were very excited when the interim government last realized that economic terrorism launched against Pakistan from Afghan soil had to be challenged before (God forbid) Pakistan lost its existence as a state. This economic terrorism is in the form of an extraordinary volume of smuggling of USD$, wheat, sugar, vegetables, and edibles out of Pakistan that played havoc to the extent that the existence of the country became a question to every sane mind.
Fixing its house in order before taking stiff action against smugglers and foreign citizens, the interim Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti categorically said that even a Court Martial would be executed if anyone from men in uniform were found guilty of helping smugglers and foreign citizens illegally residing in Pakistan. Instead of standing with the interim government to help throw illegal foreign citizens out of Pakistan, an unexpected and exceptional hue and cry had been raised by human rights organizations in Pakistan in support of illegally residing Afghans and their businesses. Could we ever have thought that liberal voices would take an instant 180-degree U-turn and start demanding that Afghan refugees must not be sent to their country?
A cursory research of stated positions of civil society organizations like HRCP, and Aurat Foundation in the past indicates that liberal voices were of the view that Afghans had ruined the social fabric of Pakistani society they had no respect for womanhood and are (were) against education and wellbeing of female cadre of society. Personalities like Ajmal Khatak, Wali Khan, Afrasiyab Khatak, Asfandyar Wali, and many more visionary personalities were much more vocal than I can remember.
Major observations raised by civil society and liberal political personalities in the past 45 years against Afghans living in Pakistan include the following points:
- Legal and illegal Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan since 1979 Afghan Jihad had multiplied over 10 million from three million (1979 official figure).
- The government of Pakistan has never taken any holistic action against registered/unregistered Afghan refugees during the last 45 years and they have been allowed to stay in Pakistan due to UNHCR requests. Pakistan must say No to UNHCR and send Afghans to their homes in Afghanistan.
- Afghanis have not integrated themselves with Pakistani society, and culture and they consider their customs more important than Pakistani laws and Pakistani customs.
- Pakistan has had enough of Afghani’s exploitation and the state must take firm action to send them home they should be allowed to enter Pakistan only through proper channels such as border control, visas, and passports.
- Afghanistan brings only bad news to Pakistan and Pak-Afghan borders bring nothing good except drugs, terrorism, radicalization, sectarian killings, poliovirus, and a dirty money market
- Afghanis are brutally looting the resources of the host country, wreaking havoc on the latter’s economy and weakening its currency to somehow consolidate their economy in the isolated Afghanistan.
- Keeping Afghanis (legal and illegal) in Pakistan is as if we (Pakistan) are giving our blood to Afghans even when we are dying.
- Afghanistan has again become a hub of terrorism and terrorist outfits like Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Daesh Khorasan, and other extremist groups are living there and operating against Pakistan and Central Asian countries from Afghanistan.
The above-mentioned observations are some out of hundreds raised by liberals during the last 45 years. However, religious organizations and political parties such as JUI and Jamaat-e-Islami have always had a soft image of refugees and a soft viewpoint favoring Afghans to keep living in Pakistan. It may be due to their vote-bank because millions of Afghanis have bought/procured Pakistani identification cards and passports illegally and they may be registered voters supporting religious parties. Moreover, illegal Afghanis studying in Madrasas (religious schools) are a major street force of religiopolitical parties for street protests whenever necessary.
Another possible reason is purely economic as many important political leaders are directly or indirectly involved in Afghan-transit trade that volumes billions of rupees annually. The checks and balances on Afghan transit trade can play havoc with their illegal businesses (Afghanis consider smuggling a legal business and call it Karobar. Hundi, Hawala, weapon trade, etc are businesses, not anything illegal for them). Therefore, any action against illegal Afghans crossing the Pak-Afghan border does not suit the powerful strata of KPK society.
However, the abrupt support of liberal and human rights organizations like HRCP and Aurat Foundation needs to be reviewed, discussed, and academically investigated. I strongly believe that Pakistan cannot afford further Economic Terrorism in which illegal Afghans are categorically involved. One can contest that there is no Economic Terrorism launched from Afghan soil against Pakistan and this is just my wild statement. For this purpose, it is appropriate to mention what Economic Terrorism is and what are its features.
One can read features and then use the logical mind to understand how much of them are already present in the Pak-Afghan trade and relationship.
Hereunder are some of the internationally recommended features of Economic Terrorism:
In 2005 the Geneva Centre for Security Policy defined Economic Terrorism in the following terms:
“Contrary to “economic warfare” which is undertaken by states against other states, “economic terrorism” would be undertaken by transnational or non-state actors. This could entail varied, coordinated, and sophisticated or massive destabilizing actions to disrupt the economic and financial stability of a state, a group of states, or a society for ideological or religious motives. These actions, if undertaken, may be violent or not. They could have either immediate effects or psychological effects which in turn have economic consequences”.
The Economic Terrorism impacts as:
- Immediate Loss of Human and Nonhuman Capital.
- Effects of Uncertainty on Consumer and Investor Behavior.
- Effects of Retrenchment on Specific Industries or Localities.
- Increased costs of security analogous to a “security” or “terrorist tax”.
- Impact on supply chains.
- Smuggling of currency for bleeding the country economically.
- Smuggling of edible products to create serious food security in the target country.
- Encouraging undocumented economy.
- Controlling routes for disrupting supply chains.
- Attacking and harassing local and foreign investors (reference attacks on Chinese experts and ransom threats to industrialists, businessmen, and traders in Pakistan).
Several International researches indicate that Financial Terrorism (also known as Economic Terrorism) is a secret manipulation of a nation’s economy by state or non-state actors. Terroristic attacks against ports and land borders (attacks in and around Gwadar Port, and Karachi Port,) cause extra measures to be implemented to ensure the safe arrival and departure of the products and these measures force the cost of exporting and importing goods to increase. Pakistan is the most affected by this kind of terrorism because the slowing of exports and imports has affected the country’s ability to combat poverty. An increase in poverty can cause revolts among the population and possible political destabilization, forcing an even greater increase in poverty.
Several post-Afghan Jihad researches indicate that since 1979, economic growth has not picked up and Pakistan continues to be a serious victim of terrorism, including foreign-sponsored terrorism from the immediate neighborhoods. There is no doubt that Pakistan fought back and reclaimed its writ in troubled areas bordering Afghanistan through several military operations against terrorists from 2003 to 2018 but almost everything went down to drain when the PTI government through a negotiation with terrorists resettled TTP terrorists inside the country after Afghan Taliban reclaimed government in Kabul in August 2021.
Since 1979, a considerable portion of valuable national resources, both men and material, have been diverted to address the security challenges, and in addition to economic losses, cross-border terrorism in Pakistan. Interestingly liberals in favour of illegal Afghans are giving the same justifications to keep Afghan refugees in Pakistan that had been stated-positions of the late Ziaul Haq. He always used dictions like human rights, international conventions about refugees, and the well-being of humanity, and altogether the same dictions; without any change in words are being used by liberal organizations today. Can we say that Ziaul Haq was a visionary man who knew realities almost 45 years earlier than liberals?
Now Pakistan has decided to mitigate the Afghan factor by sending illegal Afghans home while also deliberating how to send legal Afghan refugees back to their country. Should we stand with Pakistan or with illegal Afghans? I believe liberals should answer this critical question.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.