Security forces have apprehended as many as six Afghan agents who were allegedly involved in acts of sabotage, terrorism and targeted killings that left at least 40 people dead in Pakistan. The problem is that while a criminal presence of elements based in Afghanistan cannot be denied, the large population of Afghan refugees are being used as scapegoats. This is not the first time, fingers have been pointed at the refugees that have been long residing in the country and with the current need to find someone to blame, it won’t be the last.

Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti in a press briefing on Thursday announced the arrest of the six spies. He claimed the arrested spies were involved in subversive activities in the province, including targeted killings and lashed out at the Afghan intelligence agency – National Directorate of Security – for deceiving Pakistan. He also named three NDS generals, one of whom is now retired, that were providing financial and logistical support to the spies with the aim of spreading chaos in Balochistan, and Pakistan as a whole. He went on to say that all Afghan nationals are involved in acts of subversion and terrorism and should leave Balochistan otherwise they will be evicted. This last statement, for many of the poor Afghan refugees living here for decades, might have gone a step too far. We must also remember that many of these refugees now have strong kinship ties with Pakistanis, and many Pakistani citizens are also of Afghan descent.

Each time a call is made for the repatriation of Afghan refugees, the demand is accompanied by hyperbole about the refugees destabilising Pakistan. The issue needs to be handled with sensitivity. We are notorious for launching witch-hunts against minorities, but those are our social ills. The government at least should refrain from publicly blaming refugees, or any specific ethnicity, for terrorism. These undiplomatic statements do nothing to improve the already toxic relations with Afghanistan, nor do they inspire any loyalty in marginalised groups living in Pakistan. Around 70 per cent of Afghan refugees were born and bred as refugees in the country, according to a nationwide survey. This breach in the state security should be taken seriously, looking at all aspects- rather than only blaming the most vulnerable.

Measures have to be taken against threats coming from Afghan soil, but these have to be well thought out, and should have a maximum chance of success. These include a proper fencing of the Pak-Afghan border, better customs controls for people crossing the border, and a viable plan for the repatriation of refugees.