As the policy for the repatriation of the Afghan refugee population gets tougher, there is relief in the fact that their repatriation is not sudden and inhumane as per official state policy. One of these positive measures, to ease the burden of the immigrant population, is that the deadline announced for the repatriation of refugees will not affect the Afghan students’ education. They are allowed to carry on their studies beyond December 2017, which is to be the final date for the voluntary repatriation of around 1.3 million registered refugees, provided that refugee students obtain certificates from the head of their education institution concerned.

While this demographic has been often maligned for being complicit in criminal or terrorist activities, the facts on the ground are that the Afghans have been peaceful guests in Pakistan. According to official figures, Afghan refugees are only responsible for one percent of serious criminal offences in KPK. While the figures may differ in other parts of the country, until we have those figures at hand, it is unfair to demonise these people.

The relationship with Afghanistan has been extremely one-sided for the past forty years, with Pakistan giving Afghans aid and shelter and getting terrorism in return. The repatriation of the Afghan population was a practical necessity. Pakistan, at least in its policy, has been patient. Deadlines to voluntarily repatriate have been extended multiple times. Federal Secretary Ministry of State and Frontier Regions Mohammad Shehzad Arbab has also stated that under the state’s policy, which still requires the federal cabinet’s approval, Afghan investors will have to submit certificates from the Board of Investment to the Interior Ministry, Pakistani spouses will get long-term visas to continue their stay, and patients from Afghanistan coming for treatment will also get relaxations. Activity and interactions will continue even after repatriation. Harassment of Afghans by law enforcement agencies and civilians is a reality, but this is a problem of culture and mind-sets, rather than state policy on paper being harsh. This gap must be closed.

Though the majority of refugees are not a security threat, we know that the porous Durand Line has been the bane of military operations as Afghan territory has been a safe haven for fleeing terrorists. It is essential to have stricter immigration controls and checks. Security is paramount, but it does not have to be at the cost of the image of Pakistan, or by the persecution refugees. Pakistan has a terrible image in Afghanistan due to the official government’s pro-India stance. Exemplary behaviour towards the refugees could counteract this venom, at least among the Afghan people.