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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Islamabad: A Capital for Refugees!

My father was posted to Islamabad in early 1960s when all the ministries were shifted in this newly built administrative capital  of Pakistan from its original capital Karachi. We have witnessed it evolving into one of the fastest growing cities here which was once an abode of people who used to work either for the federal government or for the foreign missions in Pakistan. Almost everybody knew everybody else and this is a proof of how small this place actually was.

In late 1970s and early 1980, with Ziaul Haq in power, we saw hoards of Afghan refugees in Islamabad. The theme was generosity and hospitality of the Pakistan government towards the people in war torn Afghanistan. Refugees in Islamabad were those with money and power back home. They simply changed the landscape of Islamabad. Sectors such as G-8 and G-9 were pested with Afghan refugees and G-9/4 can be rightly called the "Little Kabul" in Islamabad. They had their schools, clinics, businesses and community centers there and 70% of the residents were Afghans. They were among the most prosperous business owners of Islamabad and had their businesses in 'the most expensive' commercial areas. These people have NOT been repatriated back and Pakistan has failed miserably on its policy related to refugees which has taken a toll on Pakistani masses.

With its own out-of-control population - Pakistan never have had enough of refugees at the expense of the welfare of its own people. A logic hard to understand. We had a fair share of more than 3.5 million Afghans refugees according to the UN estimates but there is likelihood that the numbers were much higher because Pak-Afghan border which is 2,430 km long was always porous. Only in Islamabad at a certain point their numbers reached 300,000. In Islamabad-Rawalpindi region alone, there numbers reached more than half a million. There were more Afghans than Pakistanies at one point in certain sectors in Islamabad like the infamous "Peshawar Moor" (G-9/4) - the Afghan Hub. Many of the apartments whether government or private were rented out to Afghans because they were willing to pay whatever prices and were ready to live in really small /cramped "one-room setups" while sharing kitchen and toilet. A family usually comprised of of 8 or 9 people. It has been reported that one person used to hire a place and then sublet it to a number of families - room by room and the trick was and still is: they call themselves joint family. The Afghans and the local populace have never had good relations. Afghans are extremely disrespectful of Pakistanies - most of the time. It has been 32 years when the first batch came to Pakistan and now their second and at times third generations have grown up here. According to the UNCHR, NWFP has about 2 million Afghans, Baluchistan about 800,000 and Islamabad 50,000 ( which is a misleading number) and details can be seen here.

In mid 1990s and by 2000, these people have moved to the sectors F-10 and F-11 but honestly, their presence is felt everywhere. I have heard that huge communities of Afghans are living in an area called "Sadiqabad" of Rawalpindi - a twin city of Islamabad. Even within Afghan people we have those who are ethnically Pashtuns (they are usually poor and are found in the refugee camps) and then Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks (the wealthier Afghans).

The story of these refugees does NOT seem to end - government of Pakistan has failed to come up with "any" policies in collaboration with UNHCR and the Afghan government to repatriate these millions and millions back to their country - which need them more. Landlocked Afghanistan is equally a major player in what ails Pakistan today. Smuggling of both food and weapons as well as drug trafficking routes and channels criss-cross Pakistan from Northern and Western borders.

Pakistan is one of the leading countries involved in all sorts of human trafficking of not just Pakistanies but it serves as a transit country for illegal foreigners as well. The destinations are diverse. They have an easy access to 'good-to-go' forged papers such as fake Pakistani National Identity Cards and passports - thanks to the corruption in Pakistan and particularly at the Passport and Immigration offices of Pakistan under the auspices of Ministry of Interior.

The story doesn't end with Afghan refugees because in 1990s, we also saw a huge numbers of Arabs, Somalis and Sundanese in Islamabad. In mid 1990s, Pakistan brought refugees from Bosnia Herzegovina and one could see them in government hospitals (PIMS) frequently. I have to stress that the fault lies in the policies of Pakistan with respect to the number of refugees flowing in the country and one of the catalyst is the thriving corruption to the core of Pakistani society as well. I will NOT hold any of these communities responsible because they have succeeded due to the loopholes in our system.

Right from the beginning, Pakistan was unable to confine them in specific areas as the rule goes in all other countries. We have Iran as an example but in Pakistan they were free to move any where and these Afghans are everywhere - WHY???

WE NEVER FORESEE the effects of these people on our fragile economy and became silent observers to how jobs shifted to these refugees from our people.

We never cared as to how their presence affected the natural resources as well as the environment in general.

Provincial governments of Baluchistan and NWFP have given various warning on how likely is the possibility of outbreak of various diseases such as Congo Hemorrhage Fever and malaria over and over again.

How Pakistan has put in jeopardy the the well-being of its local people and that of the ecosystem?

What made us stuck with short term unrealistic goals and poor policies?

What were the effects on our culture and society per se. because of these refugees?

Are they NEVER gonna leave???

We are becoming another Afghanistan -  we are compared with them more often than not which is  very alarming. We should bring our own house in order rather than worrying about the entire world. We should worry about our own people, people of Pakistan - rather than inviting the world's entire refugees here. We are NOT doing any service in any way. I think we have to rethink that Persian proverb: "Kerdan  Sud Aib, Na Kerdan yuk Aib". We should learn to say "NO"!


  1. It is true but we never consider it as a problem.

    Visit my blog and follow it .

    Also I am trying to be a part of Pak positive but it is not working:(.So messed up site.

  2. Thanks Izdiher for your comment, I think its a matter of time to become a member of Pakpositive!
    Best of Luck!