The Soviet and later, the US led coalition invasion of Afghanistan forced a large numbers of Afghans in to Pakistan. For its part, Pakistan maintained a very liberal policy regarding the refugees; welcoming all and together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other refugee monitoring groups settled them in its land. There are 1.7 million registered Afghans refugees in Pakistan and an estimated 1.4 million unregistered one, making this the highest refugee population in the world. All parties envisioned an eventual repatriation, and according to the Foreign Office, with the US withdrawal almost complete, the time to “start the process” is here.

Hosting a large refugee population indefinitely is unfeasible; that much is settled. Maintaining refugee camps is a drain on national resources, and the semi regulated nature of such refugees and their un-integrated and often impoverished living conditions create law and order problems. In line with international treaty obligations, Pakistan must establish a gradual and voluntary repatriation program. Yet reports from afghan officials and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) hint at a much more crude method being employed by the Pakistan government. IOM has reported a large inflow in Afghanistan of refugees fleeing persecution in Pakistan. The fleeing families report increasing harassment, such as police raids and coercion. They are being racially profiled and subjected to discrimination at the hands of the government despite valid identification. While the FO denies this, it seems like there is a concentrated policy to forcibly remove refugees, especially following the Peshawar attack.

Using such underhand methods will irreparably damage relations with the Afghan government and most importantly, the people they are forcing to leave. Any permanent solution to militancy in the northwest needs the willing cooperation of the Afghan side. If the settlers on the other side of the Durand line view Pakistan with suspicion and hatred then our job becomes much harder. Furthermore it undercuts the renewed relationship between Kabul and Islamabad.