The federal cabinet, meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif on Thursday, decided to let the Afghan refugees stay in the country till 2015, extending the deadline of their repatriation earlier fixed for June 30 this year. Most likely, the gesture has been made in the vain attempt to placate the Kabul regime that keeps finding faults with Pakistan for being ‘insincere’ in its efforts of help in the restoration of peaceful conditions in Afghanistan. The cabinet decision would also suit Washington; for the three to four million Afghans repatriated at this stage would further complicate the confused situation in Afghanistan and contribute to frustrating its post-pullout objective of leaving behind a government not guided by a radical agenda. The US would certainly be pleased with it; with Afghanistan it is likely to cut no ice.

Seeing from another angle i.e. Islamabad’s legitimate interests, however, prolonging the stay of these refugees in the country does not bode well for our efforts to eliminate militancy from our midst. The Afghan refugee camps tend to serve as possible safe havens for militants crossing over the Durand Line into Pakistan. They are able to quietly mix with their ethnic community and launch out to create havoc here, whenever they see the going is good for them to promote their designs.

There are other reasons why the relaxation in the limit of their stay can hardly be justified. For instance, the profusion of guns and the fad for drugs are the ills that can be directly traced to their presence here. This life-threatening disease of gun-and-drug culture became all the more menacing as the incompetent governments that followed each other were devoid of any vision to see the damage its rampancy would do to Pakistan’s social fabric. Also, the Afghan refugees seem to have appropriated many businesses in their host country, transport (particularly goods transport) for example, to the disadvantage of the local business community.

Certainly, the refugees have overstayed their welcome and it is long since that Pakistan has been suffering from hospitality fatigue.

The situation demanded that we stuck to the earlier deadline and repatriated them. Instead, we should have brought to Pakistan the Biharis from Bangladesh, who are bearing the most inhuman oppression a democratic dispensation could inflict even on its worst enemy. In this way, we would have exchanged the harmful presence of three to four million foreign nationals for barely 200,000 committed Pakistanis.