Security Dynamics of Hosting Refugees

Security Dynamics
  • Reading time:8 mins read
  • Post author:Aisha Saeed
  • Post category:Diagnosis

After Kabul’s fall, Pakistan scrambled to deal with the rapid development on the ground and in terms of its policies. The fall of Kabul posed two major challenges to Pakistan given previous probabilities. The first was the unfolding humanitarian crisis at its border, and the second was the threat to its security that partially arose from that humanitarian crisis. Pakistan had no assessment of the potential burden of refugees on its economy but more so on its internal security landscape. The reports of the involvement of Afghan nations in attacks across Pakistan soon surfaced, leading to the difficult decision of repatriation of all illegal nationals by Pakistan. Although Afghan refugees have been settled in Pakistan for years, the change of government in Afghanistan after the US troops left brought the issue of refugees and security back to mainstream attention as the situation on Pakistan’s borders became tense.

One aspect that Pakistani officials reflect upon is that along with the truly vulnerable, those fearing the Taliban due to their association with the previous Afghan government of Karzai or those attempting to come back to their families in Pakistan, notorious individuals had also crossed over to Pakistan disguised as those fleeing in fear of violence or prosecution by the hands of Taliban.

However such factors cannot be determined by those issuing a visa or checking documents at the checkpoints. Those individuals took the benefit of leniency and relaxed security checkups by Pakistan due to the pressure it faced to assist and evacuate Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistan via the established emergency air route or by land. Many of the refugees with proper documents, visas, or asylum applications later moved out of Pakistan after a brief stay allowed by the authorities. But many opted to disperse and hide or were denied asylum by other countries; leaving them stranded in Pakistan.

Here, it is imperative to understand that refugees as individuals may not necessarily pose direct security threats but their circumstances – lack of proper documentation, background links, and involvement in illegal activities such as smuggling of narcotics or small arms become a concern for the overall law and order situation of the country. This, in turn, becomes an issue of national security for Pakistan as it not only has to deal with providing adequate assistance to refugees but also has to keep the country safe from those militants who may pose as refugees.

Pakistan, generally, does not have an inhumane approach towards the refugees but it has legitimate apprehensions from those that become enablers or hosts of those terrorists or militants.

Other factors, such as political instability, also enable terrorists to become spoilers in the situation; this holds in the case of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. For such terrorists that share the same ideological approach, such conditions become ideal to exploit. So one can say, that it is not the refugees that are securitized but the environment or the circumstances that are the security aspects for Pakistan.

Absence of Policy

Officially, Pakistan does not have a refugee policy or law. Pakistan has been providing and accommodating refugees under the UNHCR Mandate (UNHCR Assembly Resolution 428 (V) of 14 December 1950). Despite this, international assistance to Pakistan for refugees does not match the cost Pakistan spends on accommodating them and this does not include any expenditures in terms of security measures that Pakistan has to undertake at its international border with Afghanistan.

In the case of Pakistan, the custom of general brotherhood and treating guests well are common practices amongst the people of the tribal belts of Pakistan with Afghanistan.

These are the areas where most of the refugee camps are located as well. Most of the older generation of refugees who were able to conduct some trade or had the monetary capacity moved to bigger cities and set up certain businesses. The issues of refugees in Pakistan had remained unchecked for years and the security situation of the country in terms of external threats was only linked with Indian aggression. The slow but somewhat better economy of Pakistan did not initially feel the burden of the refugees as it does today. Up until now, Pakistan has been continuing its refugee approach as a goodwill gesture and somewhat takes pride in hosting a large number of refugees without steady international support.

However, the lack of policy for refugees is what is creating the current issues for Pakistan and its national security.  When a country that makes ad-hoc rules and laws is faced with an influx of refugees that also affects larger security loopholes, more issues are created rather than resolved. This is where the current dilemma of Pakistan’s Afghan refugees vis-a-vis the security dynamics arises.

A country that has hosted refugees for decades should have formulated a coherent policy, whereby systemically assesses and addresses the burden on the economy and the security of the country.

The situation in Afghanistan in terms of security has not changed significantly in decades while it has fluctuated in Pakistan. This should have given an idea of a rather habitual refugee pattern over which a policy could have been drafted.

National Security

The concept of national security has a different connotation for every country in the current age. This is due to the changing concept and evolution of war and what states see as threats to their security. While Pakistan generously accepts refugees, it lacks a policy or legal framework to curb the issues that arise from hosting Afghan refugees. Had Pakistan formulated and adopted a policy like other developed countries, the security issues that have come with these refugees may have been averted to an extent. Pakistan’s internal security issues cannot be undermined here but they have a separate history. But the grey area that is being exploited by those who threaten state security lies between Afghanistan and Pakistan where refugees are the most prominent factor and actors. While the influx of refugees did enable miscreants and became a challenge to Pakistan, it does not spare the country the responsibility of not having any policy on refugees.

To delink the odd correlation between refugees and Pakistan’s national security, it is imperative to form a policy and then implement it rather than opting for ad-hoc rules or laws to deal with the decades-long challenge of refugees.

For a country like Pakistan that struggles with not only security but also political and economic stability, not having a refugee policy has become a source of creating more of a burden on the economic and security apparatus of the country. Pakistan is not at war with Afghanistan, but when their citizens who have sought refuge in Pakistan become a threat to their host country, it has forced Pakistan to take an aggressive approach towards Afghanistan which does not suit the two immediate neighbors.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Policy Wire’s policy.

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Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst & regularly contributes to leading publications. Her area of expertise is media warfare.

Aisha Saeed

Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst & regularly contributes to leading publications. Her area of expertise is media warfare.