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Pakistan to Expel Afghan Refugees

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    But simply shifting the world s largest refugee community across borders would only serve to raise tensions, analysts say. To root out Taliban, Pakistan to
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2007
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      But simply shifting the world's largest refugee community across
      borders would only serve to raise tensions, analysts say.

      To root out Taliban, Pakistan to expel 2.4 million Afghans
      By David Montero
      The Christian Science Monitor


      Like more than 100,000 Afghans, Maulana Mohammed Afzal has lived in
      the mud-baked lanes of this refugee camp ever since he fled
      war-ravaged Afghanistan 26 years ago. The camp is home for his family,
      but Pakistan's government says it's a threat to national security.

      In its most recent effort to clamp down on Taliban activity within its
      borders, Pakistan has announced that all 2.4 million Afghan refugees,
      most living in camps, must return home by 2009. This and three other
      camps near the Afghan border, which together hold 230,000 refugees,
      are scheduled to be closed by the end of August.

      "The problem of cross-border militancy is closely related to the
      presence of ... Afghan refugees in Pakistan," Munir Akram, Pakistan's
      Permanent Representative to the United Nations, wrote recently to the
      UN Security Council. "These camps have often given rise to complaints
      that they provide shelter to undesirable elements and Taliban."

      Many disagree, however, saying Pakistan's Afghan refugees, most of
      whom are Pashtun and share the same tribal ethnicity as the Taliban
      movement, are only being made a scapegoat.

      The debate comes as Robert Gates, in his first visit to Pakistan as US
      secretary of Defense, met with President Musharraf in Islamabad this
      week to discuss the Taliban's expected spring offensive in Afghanistan.

      As pressure mounts on Pakistan, analysts say the fate of the Afghan
      refugee community – the world's largest – is an important piece in the
      puzzle of regional militancy. Simply shifting them across the border
      could flame tensions.

      "[T]he Afghan government is not capable ... of providing for their
      rehabilitation. It will be a source of more conflict inside
      Afghanistan," says Aimal Khan, a political analyst at the Sustainable
      Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, which recently completed a
      study of Afghan refugees.

      Violence draws new attention

      Set against such a backdrop, a recent burst of violence radiating from
      Pakistan's tribal zone, including two attacks in the capital,
      Islamabad, has placed renewed attention on refugee camps as potential
      hotbeds, though no Afghan suspects have been identified.

      The Jalozai camp, 18 miles from Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan,
      looks like a small, bustling city, with a mile-long bazaar offering a
      wealth of goods. But a cloud of controversy hangs over its dirt lanes.
      According to Western media reports, the camp has incubated several
      high-profile terrorists, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the
      first attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, and Khalid Sheikh
      Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents raided the
      camp in October 2002, arresting four Afghans they said were connected
      to Al-Qaeda.

      Today Jalozai and other refugee camps, which are spread throughout the
      Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan, help fuel the Taliban
      resurgence, the government says.

      Repatriation could create new issues

      Closing down the camps may ease the building pressure on Pakistan to
      combat militancy within its borders, but observers say the move could
      cause more problems than it solves.

      An exodus of poor Afghans is likely to exacerbate existing social and
      economic problems inside Afghanistan. Moreover, refugees without a
      home or means to support themselves could fall in with the Taliban,
      either out of resentment or a practical need to survive.

      "They're made a scapegoat," says Behroz Khan, a prominent journalist
      in Peshawar. "If these families are sent back by force ... these
      people will turn toward those forces that are against Pakistan."

      Some 2.8 million Afghans have already voluntarily repatriated since
      2002. Those who remain in camps feel they would be vulnerable if they
      return to Afghanistan, mostly because they are without land or shelter.

      "I want to stay here. The government [in Afghanistan] is not in a
      favorable position. We have no residence in Afghanistan," says Mr.
      Afzal, originally from Kunduz Province in Afghanistan.

      Better life in camps than back home

      While conditions are poor in the Jalozai camp, many Afghans live
      better here than they would in Afghanistan, with well-built mud houses
      and well-kept schools. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, provides mobile
      health-care centers and water, amenities they may lack in a land many
      of them barely know.

      Whether the largely Pashtun refugee population stays or goes, many in
      Washington say that assisting them is crucial in stemming the tide of
      Taliban militancy.

      "[W]e need programs that address the grievances, the aspirations of
      the Pashtun population on both sides of that border," James Dobbins,
      an analyst at the RAND Corporation, told a recent Congressional
      hearing about Afghanistan's security.

      Last week, a tripartite meeting of officials from Pakistan,
      Afghanistan, and UNHCR decided that refugees in the four camps
      scheduled to be closed this year will be given a choice: either to
      repatriate with assistance from UNHCR or to move to other camps that
      will remain open until 2009. In addition, more than 2 million Afghans
      recently registered with the government under a UNHCR program,
      granting them temporary resident status in Pakistan for three years.

      Finding a solution to the problem is likely to be difficult, observers
      agree. Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention
      or its subsequent protocols, meaning there is no clear-cut policy on
      how to handle refugees here.

      Many hope alternative solutions can be agreed upon. "We believe there
      should be a number of options. We have to look at ... how to address
      those who can't go home," says Vivian Tan, UNHCR's senior regional
      public information officer in Islamabad.



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