beta.dawn: SAD though it is, old wars and their effects — even if ongoing — do not make headlines. Perhaps that is why the world’s attention tends to wander away to newer conflicts and their attendant human plight. In recent years, we have seen the international community stretch its hand out to help people whose lives were rent apart in Iraq, in the countries that were part of the Arab Spring, and now in Syria — for a time. With each new flare-up, the thrust of international humanitarian operations shifted, leaving the earlier efforts shorn to a considerable degree of money and manpower. It is only through this cynical lens that the plight of Afghan refugees who continue to remain in Pakistan decades after being dislocated can be understood. Has the world, even Afghanistan, forgotten?
There are 1.6 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan, as well as over 1.6 million unregistered and illegal aliens. For Pakistan and particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the overwhelming majority resides, this is too front-and-centre an issue to be conveniently forgotten. Such, indeed, is the scale of the matter that Pakistani authorities have, on occasion, issued deadlines for Afghans to repatriate themselves on pain of having their refugee status revoked. Such deadlines were extended, and now the latest deadline is due to pass on June 30. This time, too, in view of humanitarian considerations, the government will have little choice but to extend the deadline again. The central issue, of course, is the abysmal situation that continues to prevail in Afghanistan, decades after the invasion by the Soviet Union. Despite the efforts of the UN refugee agency and Pakistan, the reality is that with 36pc Afghans living below the poverty line, little meaningful development and few employment opportunities, Afghanistan is an unappealing destination — even in comparison to Pakistan. The Karzai administration, and the world, needs to ensure improvement, fast. Pakistan must not reject refugees, but neither must their country of citizenship think that the problem has been resolved.