The unanimous agreement of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is recognition of the fact that voluntary repatriation, where feasible, is the preferred durable solution for the problems of the Afghan refugees. It is noteworthy that 2019 marks the 40th year since Afghans were first displaced from their homes in the aftermath of the then Soviet Union’s, now Russia, invasion of their homeland. Since then, the people of Afghanistan have not seen any peace in their country.

The invasions and civil wars have made the Afghan refugee crisis the most protracted one in present times. Pakistan, as a neighbouring country, welcomed Afghans and provided them with refuge from wars. According to 2018 data of the UNHCR, Pakistan is host to more than 1.4 million registered Afghans. The unregistered ones make this figure swell to at least 3 million according to one estimate.

However, Pakistan could not successfully absorb Afghan refugees because she lacked resources. While initially, the international actors did support Pakistan to rehabilitate Afghan refugees, with the passage of time, financial assistance and all required technical aid in smooth absorption of Afghan refugees in Pakistan vanished away. But despite all such difficulties, Pakistan allowed the Afghan people to live their lives in different cities. What is welcome is the fact that both the Kabul government and the international community and organisations like UNHCR recognise the limitations of Pakistan. And for this very reason, they have joined hands together and agreed on a 12-point joint declaration on the conclusion of the Tripartite Commission meeting that will ensure safe and honourable repatriation of Afghan refugees.

Nevertheless, it is essential for the parties of the Tripartite Commission to play their respective roles in creating an environment that favours the voluntary return and integration of Afghan refugees back in Afghan society. At present, according to research studies, the law and order situation in Afghanistan is not up to the mark. People are fleeing the country because of security reasons.

Under the current plan, the legal stay of the 1.4 million registered. Afghan refugees would end on June 30. It is hoped that Pakistan will give another extension to the Afghan refugees as a detailed plan for the return of the Afghan refugees is still missing. While Kabul has made some progress in developing plans to enable Afghan refugees’ integration in Afghanistan, the real issue is the law and order situation around Kabul. At the same time, Islamabad needs to show care and behave sensibly while sending Afghans back home. Otherwise, forty years of service to refugees will be wasted.