ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s hopes of Afghan refugees voluntary return to Afghanistan as per December 2015 timeline are likely to dash to the ground because of Kabul’s ostensible delay in creating conditions, or pull factor, for their dignified return.

Sources privy to the situation told The Nation that Islamabad was worried after the UNHCR and the Afghan government failed to create a pull factor for Afghan refugees to go back.

“Pakistan, encouraged by President Ashraf Ghani’s statement that he attaches highest priority to the return of Afghan refugees, has reminded the UNHCR of its key responsibility to work with the Afghan government to prepare the ground for their early return,” a senior government functionary said requesting not to be named.

However, the dismal response of the UNHCR has added to Islamabad’s fears that the plan for dignified return of more than three million of Afghans from Pakistan on a voluntary basis would hit snags and may also affect its efforts to fight terrorism and extremism under the National Action Plan.

According to sources, apart from 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees, there is an estimated equal number of Afghans who have not registered as refugees, meaning thereby they are illegal aliens in Pakistan and their situation makes them vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists who may find hideouts in their midst.

Sources ruled out the possibility of any friction between Pakistan and Afghanistan governments over these issues hoping the Afghan government would fulfil its commitment.

On the other hand, a significant portion of registered Afghan refugees are not willing to go back to Afghanistan not because of the security conditions but because of economic advantages in Pakistan.

“Why we should go back especially when we have good economic opportunities available in Pakistan than Afghanistan,” a group of Afghan refugees in Haripur district of KP told The Nation.

The KP government launched a hunt for illegal Afghans after the grisly terrorist attack on Army Public School Peshawar two months ago which left more 150 people dead, mostly schoolchildren.

“It [refugees’ arrival] has slowed down for some time, but this issue is our key priority on which we fully focus. The fabric of the Afghan society is not complete without our refugee brothers and sisters. We are improving our environment to encourage their return so that they see no uncertain future and no shortage of basic amenities,” Afghan Ambassador Janan Mosazai told a group of journalists at the Afghan Consulate General in Karachi last month.

The Afghan ambassador said there is a three-way agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and all three signatories agree on voluntary, dignified and gradual return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

He said at present 1.6m registered Afghan refugees were residing in Pakistan, most of whom lived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan while their number in Sindh was 65,000.

He, however, was not sure about the number of unregistered Afghan refugees, which he guessed might be between 400,000 and one million.

Following the APS massacre, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government announced plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees living illegally in the province.

Ambassador Mosazai, however, clarified that Islamabad has assured that the repatriation of registered Afghan refugees would be “voluntary, dignified and gradual”.

“We are looking into reports of forced evictions but we have been assured by the Pakistani authorities that it would not happen,” he said. He was of the view that all the necessary preparations are being made to repatriate maximum number of Afghan refugees by the end of this year.

The government has already constituted a ministerial committee to find ways and means to ensure expeditious voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees and their reintegration inside Afghanistan.

Following the crackdown in KP, more than 30,000 Afghans living in Pakistan have returned to Afghanistan, said an assessment of International Organisation for Migration (IOM) mission in Kabul.

According to Richard Danziger, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) mission in Kabul, out of the 30,599 Afghans who had left Pakistan since January, some 1,817 had been deported while the rest had left of their own.

“They are mostly Afghans without papers who have been living in Pakistan for the past 20 to 25 years,” he said.

The figure, which eclipses the 25,000 Afghans who returned from Pakistan over the entire year in 2014, was a result of the breakdown in relationships between the migrants and their host communities following the Peshawar attack, added Danziger.

“It all began after the attack on the school in Peshawar. Their lives became intolerable,” he said.

Afghan authorities in January said they had arrested five people suspected of planning the attacks but they were not Afghan nationals.

“We’re not sure if this phenomenon will pass soon or will last,” added Danziger, who said most of the returnees came from eastern Nangahar, Laghman, Kabul and Kunar, as well as northern Kunduz.

Pakistan, on its part, has a large population of internally displaced people, refugees who are Pakistanis. Most of them come from tribal areas where the military has started operation against militants, requiring the civilian population to leave the areas. The government already has approved the army’s strategy for return of internally displaced people to areas cleared during the Zarb-i-Azb operation against Taliban and other militant groups.