PESHAWAR - Though the deadline for repatriation of registered Afghan refugees is approaching speedily, which is June 30 next, the federal government has yet to decide whether to give them further extension to stay or not in the wake of Pakistan’s own economic and security challenges.

Certainly, the government is under pressure to decide the fate of the Afghan refugees who have been staying in Pakistan for the last 36 years. However, it is believed that these refugees are likely to get another extension, and this time, it may be till December 31, 2017, official sources in the office of Commissioner of Afghan Refugees in Peshawar told The Nation on condition of anonymity.

The Pakistan government has time and again sought international support for the repatriation of Afghan nationals. But there are various reasons making the move impossible, they were of the view.

First, the government has not prepared any contingency plan for sending these refugees back to Afghanistan. Secondly, it will further hamper Kabul and Islamabad’s relationships in the prevailing situation. Thirdly, there are some administrative hurdles. Besides, Pakistan cannot take any step on its own because some international stakeholders are also involved in the matter, they explained.

In addition, the Afghan government has also requested Pakistan not to send the refuges at this stage, citing various reasons, especially the issue of unrest in Afghanistan. The Afghan government, the sources said, had asked for another two to three years extension.

Approximately, there are 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees and more than one million unregistered Afghan nationals. When asked how much time it would take to send them back to Afghanistan, the official sources said, “It will certainly take another 10 years because it is not as easy as we think. The policymaking authority on Afghan refugees is the federal government, not provincial. And the federal government too would take all the stakeholders into confidence, in case it is going to repatriate them.”

“It is true that any provincial government can send back only those Afghan nationals who are living in that province illegally,” they remarked. There is a hell of difference between the unregistered Afghan nationals and the Afghan refugees . Unregistered Afghans are those who are living in Pakistan illegally and do not have proper documentation and registration whereas Afghan refugees are those who are having Proof of Registration’ (PoR) cards.

Pakistan took over 3.5million Afghan refugees as a goodwill gesture in 1980s. So it will not want to lose it with one go, they opined, adding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hosts majority of Afghans either living legally or illegally.

Official sources in the UNHCR said a summary of recommendations, including giving further extension to the Afghan refugees , has already been submitted to the federal government and it is expected that the government will give another extension.

In the wake of the prevailing situation, the demand for sending these refugees back to Afghanistan has intensified. It is stated that comparatively security situation in Afghanistan has improved, thus, this is the right time to repatriate both legal and illegal Afghans.

It merits mentioning here that a demand to expel Afghan refugees from Pakistan came after the deadly attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault in which over 140 school students and staff were massacred. Pakistan believed the attack was plotted in Afghanistan and was executed with the help of the Afghans living in Pakistan.

In the beginning, Afghan refugees started living at refugees’ camps, but, with the passage of time, many of them moved to urban areas across the country. Moreover, they not only secured Pakistani national identity cards and began businesses but also bought properties and got involved in various heinous crimes, including acts of terrorism and drug smuggling.

Afghans whether legal or illegal have spread in all parts of the country from Peshawar to Karachi and from Balochistan to Azad Kashmir. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM Pervez Khattak has many times asked the federal government to make arrangements for the rapid return of Afghans. In January 2016, the CM, while talking to media persons, said that if Afghans could live in refugee camps in Pakistan, why they couldn’t live in their own country.