Given the current turmoil in the country, there is a justifiable desire to zero in on militants in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital as well as elsewhere in the province, especially targeting Afghan refugees. While such actions are being taken, it must be ensured that law-abiding and registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan are not scooped up during the pursuit of illegal immigrants. Looking at the situation, Human Rights Watch has urged the Pakistani government to extend Afghan refugees’ legal residency status until at least December 31, 2017.

On January 12, 2016, the government extended registered Afghan refugees’ Proof of Residency (PoR) cards until June 30, 2016. For HRW, Pakistan’s six-month residency extension will only reduce Afghan refugees’ insecurity and will make sure that the government also stops police abuse against them. This extension sends the message that refugees shouldn’t be pressured to go home and would give officials time to work out resettlement to third countries and other longer-term solutions. On humanitarian grounds, this is not bad advice, and will ease the tensions the refugees are feeling as well as their propensity to cause conflict. Afghan refugees in Pakistan live a life of insecurity, exacerbated by implicit and explicit threats by Pakistani officials that after the expiration of their PoR cards, their holders become illegal aliens. However, aid for refugees is down to a trickle, and we are already overextended with our various crises, natural and political.

These refugees constitute one of the largest displaced populations in the world. The 2.5 million Afghan refugees include an estimated 1 million undocumented Afghans. Some arrived as children, grew up in Pakistan, married, and had children of their own who have never lived in Afghanistan. Others have arrived in the decades of turmoil in Afghanistan since, seeking security, employment, and a higher standard of living. It is an admirable task, to host refugees, ones that are not safe in their own country. But at what cost? Can we really afford to cater to this influx of Afghans?

The reason that the government is still grappling with the problem even after almost three decades is obviously due to the absence of clear policy and planning. Pakistan is the only country that grants multiple visas to Afghans and that too without any charges, encouraging them to disappear once across. Yet, at the same time, the state has hurriedly come up with policies to repatriate the refugee population without any clear direction.