The devastating armed conflict that has continued in and around Afghanistan for the  last four decades has brought death and destruction on a very large scale. It has not been some local or limited conflict fought  between lightly equipped local factions. The strongest armies of the modern big powers of the contemporary  world  and regional states equipped with the most lethal weaponry of the 20th and 21st century have been  parties to the prolonged war in and around Afghanistan. It started with the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979 that continued till early 1989. Soviet army used fighter jets, tanks and other heavy weaponry for retaining their grip over Afghanistan. The Afghan resistance  received large scale material support, military training and political backing from the US and other western powers, Arab countries and Pakistan in their fight against the Soviet Union and her Afghan Allies. Unfortunately the war did not end with the withdrawal of Soviet troops and proxy wars and civil war replaced the war against the Soviet occupation. Afghan cities were particularly destroyed during this phase of the armed conflict. The induction of US-led ISAF forces after 9/11 that  battled against the Pakistan based Alqaida and Taliban brought in a new wave of colossal destruction. This situation not only did not allow any let up in the conflict but it also became instrumental in gradually expanding the conflict into FATA and Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan that was a base area of Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. Like withdrawl of Soviet troops the large scale draw  down of ISAF forces has also not led to peace in Afghanistan. The resurgent Taliban have launched large scale attack on personal and installations of Afghan state to impose their version of theocracy on Afghanistan. FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also suffered heavy losses in continued fighting between Pakistan army and fanatic insurgents who also want to Talibanize Pashtun areas in Pakistan.

Pashtun belt on both sides of the Durand Line has been the epicenter of this war therefore it has naturally borne the brunt of the devastation, although the entire region including many other ethnicities have also  been impacted by it. Hundreds of thousands people lost their lives in Afghanistan . Millions had to leave their ancestral abodes for saving their lives by taking refuge in neighboring countries.

Pashtuns/Afghans have faced horrendous and brutal invasions in the past mostly because of their geographic location as gateway to Indian sub continent . For example the marauding lashkars  of Ulagh Bek and subsequently Babur unleashed bouts of murder and plunders in Kabul and Kandahar that forced a number of Pashtun tribes to immigrate to South and East. The immigration of Pashtun tribes of Yosufzai (originally Esupzai) and Mohammadzais to Peshawar valley was a case in point. They were forced to leave their homes and hearths to save their lives unlike the migrations that have been taking place through out the history for seeking economic fortunes. There is a difference between immigration of Pashtun/Afghan tribes when they  marched towards Indian subcontinent as part of their own armies or becoming components of the armies of other conquerors to build empires in foreign lands. But there are numerous instances when they have  been forced to resort to exodus to avoid large scale death and destruction of war.

The current displacement and dislocation is unprecedented, first of all in its magnitude. Originally about five millions Afghan refugees had come to Pakistan in 1980s. Around three millions Afghan/Pashtuns are still  living on the eastern side of Durand Line. Their absolute majority initially lived in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan but as the flames of war reached these areas they along with the local Pashtuns had to move further in the southern and eastern direction. Analysts in Pakistan are reluctant to point out the fact that apart from providing cheap labor in Pakistani cities these Afghan refugees have also been the main source for providing cannon fodder to the Pakistan supported Taliban war in Afghanistan. Taliban could not be “defeated” in Afghanistan as they had pools of new recruits among Afghan refugees after loosing thousands of fighters in Afghanistan.

Together with about three million IDPs of FATA and Pakhtunkhwa the Afghan/Pashtun dislocated persons constitute the gravest humanitarian crises in South Asia. Because of setting in of refugee fatigue and also because of eruption of Middle Eastern crises the international community’s focus has already shifted from the humanitarian crises here. The most “ imaginative “ initiative taken by Pakistani state has been to change the nomenclature. IDPs are now termed by ISPR as TPI (temporarily displaced persons). As if that will reduce their hardships. As if that will persuade Punjab police to stop humiliating and fleecing these hapless people. It is a typical bureaucratic move to push the real problem under the carpet.

Afghan refugees problem has persisted mainly because fighting has continued in Afghanistan. Pakistan has to realize that as long as Taliban will be free to go from their Pakistani sanctuaries to fight in Afghanistan there wouldn’t be any sustainable repatriation and if the fighting intensifies we can also expect new Afghan refugees. Secondly, successive Pakistani governments and UNHCR have focused only on repatriation along with a little bit of relocation. But they have never considered local absorption which has been an important component of of the solution of every major refugee problem in the world. For example, Pakistan has so far refused to grant citizenship rights provided in the country’s Citizenship Act to the Afghan refugee children born in Pakistan. One reason in the recent years for the rise of anti-Pakistan sentiment among the Afghan Pashtuns has been the brutal treatment meted out to refugees who are victims of misguided policies of  different state actors. Pashtun IDPs from FATA are totally powerless and helpless due to the total lack of any representative government structure of their own. They come from already marginalized areas and are faced with almost criminal negligence of the different layers of administration. For example, about one hundred thousand people from North Waziristan who had to cross over into Khost province of Afghanistan during the operation Zarb-e-Azb are a totally forgotten story. No government delegation has visited them and there is no plan in sight for their repatriation. This humanitarian crises needs attention of all concerned national and international organizations.

Special initiatives are required to bring armed conflict to an end by denying sanctuaries to fighters, prepare and implement effective plans for the repatriation and rehabilitation of refugees and IDPs and to to introduce administrative and political reforms including these marginalised people in decision making processes in the state systems. Continued neglect and colonial like rule is bound to deepen the alienation with dangerous political consequences.