Monday September 25, 2023

Post-APS attack crackdown upsets Afghan refugees

Many reluctantly return to Afghanistan

February 24, 2015
PESHAWAR: The terrorist attack on the Army Public School and College in the provincial capital on December 16 last year that killed 154 people, mostly students, has made it difficult for the Afghan refugees to stay with a peace of mind in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the rest of the country as a crackdown has been launched against them.
Though many Afghan refugees possess legal documents to live in Pakistan till December 31, 2015, the crackdown has forced many to leave the country. Soon after the Peshawar school attack, the government announced the National Action Plan (NAP) and suggested 20 points to eradicate terrorism. The NAP also called for making arrangements to repatriate the Afghan refugees.
Security officials suspected that the school attack was planned in Afghanistan. Senior Pakistani military officials went to Afghanistan to provide evidence about it and convey their concern to President Dr Ashraf Ghani and Afghan military officials.
The Afghan refugees living in Pakistan complained that they had never faced such a situation since their arrival in Pakistan in 1979 after Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The majority of the Afghans is no more restricted to the refugee camps and has spread to major cities in the country.
In Pakistan, they have invested in hotel industry, transport sector and gold and cloth businesses. According to statistics, more than three million Afghans are living in Pakistan, including which almost 1.7 million registered and the rest unregistered.
“We have never felt so helpless in Pakistan, which is our second home. We have invested billions of rupees in different businesses but today the police are asking us to shut our businesses and leave the country, which isn’t that much simple,” said Shakirullah Sabawoon, a cloth merchant in Peshawar.
He said their hardships started after the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. “The killing of innocent schoolchildren also saddened us. We believe that a

human being cannot commit such an act but the Pakistan government started a crackdown against the Afghans as if they had killed the schoolchildren,” the Afghan trader complained.
He said they couldn’t go to the market to open their shops as the police arrested the Afghans and put them behind bars and finally deported them to Afghanistan.
“Now we have made up our mind to leave Pakistan and shift our businesses to Afghanistan but it’s an easy task. We request the police authorities to give us some time so that we can make the arrangements to shift our families and businesses to Afghanistan,” Shakirullah Sabawoon said.
Ajmal Khan, 38, runs a restaurant in Peshawar, where majority of the Afghan refugees arrived and settled after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
He was seven years old when his parents migrated to Pakistan. He is now father of six children, including three daughters and three sons. “I was a small kid when we arrived in Peshawar. I love Peshawar like my child.? Peshawar city has sheltered for years,” he recalled.
Like many other Afghans, Ajmal Khan has a registration card provided by the UNHCR that granted him and his family refugee status in Pakistan till the end of 2015. However, he complained their refugee status was not ?considered legal after the Peshawar school attack.
“Recently I was going to open my restaurant in the morning when the police stopped me. I showed them my UNHCR card, but the cops snatched it and took me to the police station. I was kept in the lockup for one day and then shifted to the Peshawar Central Prison. My relatives hired a lawyer and I was produced before a judge. I told him that I had legal documents but he didn’t listen ?to me and charged me under the Foreigners’ Act and issued my deportation orders,” he said.
Ajmal Khan said he had now decided to wind up his business and leave the country. “I have rented a house in my native Battikot town in Nangarhar province ?and moved half of the family there. I will also leave Pakistan with the rest of my family members as soon as I sell off my restaurant,” he said.
He said 22,000 Afghan families had shifted to Afghanistan alone from Peshawar ?and its surroundings after the crackdown. He said the Afghan students were also expelled from schools and colleges.
“I grew up and got married in Peshawar. My children were also born here. I find it extremely difficult to leave this city forever. Peshawar and its people are matchless,” Ajmal khan said. Another Afghan, Mohammad Zahir Khan who deals in gold in Peshawar, said the entire gold market was run by the Afghans as they had invested billions of rupees.
“Winding up our businesses in a short span of time isn’t possible. Now the people have learnt that the Afghans are leaving. It has badly affected our business as they don’t return our loans. We can’t open our shops because we fear getting arrested by the police,” he complained.