Posts Tagged ‘ Refugees ’

Decade After 9/11, Afghans Languish in Pakistan

By Qasim Nauman and Rebecca Conway for Reuters

When Ghulum Nabi’s father heard U.S.-backed troops toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban after the September 11, 2001, attacks, he rushed to their family home in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan to spread the news.

Perhaps, one day they could all return to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan supported by a Western superpower.

After 10 years of U.S.-led efforts to pacify one of the world’s most turbulent countries, Afghan refugees in Pakistan have little hope for stability in their homeland.

“I grew up here and Pakistan is my country. When my father pushes me to go back to visit, I end up having a fight with him. I’m never going to live there. I want to get Pakistani nationality. This is my home,” said Nabi, 22, who runs a crockery shop.

“It doesn’t matter if it is America or anyone else trying to watch over Afghanistan. I will still be looking around to see if anyone is pointing a gun at me.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai would welcome a return of the millions of Afghans living in Pakistan.

It would be a vote of confidence in his administration, which faces many problems, from widespread allegations of state corruption, to a resilient Taliban.

SOVIET INVASION TRIGGERED LIFE OF UNCERTAINTY

Many of the refugees are skilled labourers who could boost reconstruction and help revive a weak economy if they return. But it’s unlikely to happen.

Most of the refugees in Pakistan arrived after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The conflict that followed consumed their homeland. After the mujahideen warriors defeated the Russians, warlords turned on each other and tore Afghanistan apart.

Many refugees fear a repeat of that chaos as a U.S. troop withdrawal looms.

Some would like to go home but feel they can’t. Others regard Pakistan as home despite its many disadvantages. Without proper Pakistani identification cards, Afghans can’t open bank accounts or buy or lease property.

Many are openly mistreated by Pakistanis who have little fear of being held to account.

On August 14, the anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, Saeed Anwar’s landlord showed up with three men armed with AK-47 assault rifles at his clothing shop at a busy bazaar in the city of Haripur, home to 80,000 Afghan refugees who live in camps.

“They threw around my merchandise and said I need to pay them a 300,000 Pakistani rupees ($3,450) advance on the rent. I had already paid the rent,” said Anwar, wearing traditional, loose Pakistani trousers.

“I went to the police to register a case. But when they see a dispute between a Pakistani and an Afghan, they automatically assume the Afghan has done something wrong.”

Still, many Afghans believe its wiser, and safer, to just accept the frequent humiliation than return to a homeland still shattered, despite a long U.S.-led military campaign against militancy and billions of dollars in Western aid.

Afghans — from elders who vividly remember the first Soviet gunship helicopters in Afghanistan, to teenagers who have only visited a few times — work for Pakistanis as welders or carpenters and tailors in Haripur and other cities.

Most of them prefer to run their own small businesses, from food carts to car dealerships. It’s the only sense of independence they have in the camps which consist of small cement and mud housing units near a reservoir.

The elders have set up a jirga, or tribal gathering, to settle internal disputes, as is done in much of Afghanistan. Cricket games are the only form of entertainment and leisure activity for most youths.

Two years ago Pakistan agreed to let displaced Afghans stay until the end of 2012, after a resurgence of militant violence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border hindered repatriation.

Still, people like Sherullah, whose nine children were born in Pakistan, feel vulnerable. What if Pakistan asks them to leave one day?

“There is a lot of confusion. If there’s one thing I want, it’s for this confusion to go away, for us to know if we will be staying or not,” said Sherullah, who was cutting women’s clothing in his tailor shop.

“There are many people living here that can afford to build a proper house but don’t want to. They think ‘what if next year we are told to leave?’. So they continue to live in mud houses.”

Aside from 1.7 million officially registered Afghans in Pakistan, there are an additional 800,000 with no documentation.

According to the United Nations, Pakistan is home to the world’s largest refugee population, mostly Afghans, who strain the country’s troubled economy.

Pakistan would like to repatriate them.

There are, however, few incentives for refugees to head back to Afghanistan. So life in camps may drag on for many years.

Even though the U.S. disengagement is gradual, it brings back painful memories of what was widely seen as American abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet exit in 1989. Warlords soon took over and bloodshed returned.

Haji Aslam, 65, an elder in one of the camps, has seen conflict in Afghanistan over the last 30 years — from the battlefields where he fought the Soviets to what he sees today on his television screen. He is betting on the Taliban to prevail once the Americans leave.

“Even if just 10 Taliban show up, the Afghan government will flee Kabul,” said Aslam, a man with a white beard wearing a traditional flat Afghan cap. “In Pakistan, I am at peace. I know my children are safe.”

Angelina Jolie Meets Flood Victims in Pakistan

By Inamur Rehman for The Associated Press

American movie star Angelina Jolie met flood victims in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday and appealed to the international community to provide aid needed to help the country recover from its worst natural disaster.

The flow of aid money has stalled in recent days, and officials expressed hope the two-day visit by Jolie — who serves as a “goodwill ambassador” for the U.N.’s refugee agency — will convince foreign countries and individuals to open their wallets.

The 35-year-old actress said she met with many people whose lives have been devastated by the floods, including mothers who lost their children and an elderly Pakistani couple who feared they would never be able to rebuild the home they lost.

“I am very moved by them and I hope that I am able to, today and tomorrow, be able to do something to help bring attention to the situation for all of the people in need in Pakistan,” Jolie told reporters after visiting a refugee camp in the Jalozai area.

She toured the area wearing a long black robe and a black headscarf adorned with a thin red stripe — the kind of conservative clothing worn by many Muslim women in Pakistan.

The floods began in the northwest at the end of July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and slowly surged south along the Indus River, swallowing up hundreds of villages and towns and killing more than 1,700 people. Another 17 million have been affected by the floods, and many will need emergency assistance to survive.

The United Nations issued an appeal for $460 million in emergency funds on Aug. 11, but only $294 million, or 64 percent, has been received so far, and donations have more or less dried up in recent days.

Ajay Chhibber, a U.N. assistant secretary general, said he hopes Jolie’s visit will have “a very big impact” on the inflow of aid money and will keep people focused on the crisis.

“We need more … well-known figures who can keep the spotlight and focus because people tend to forget internationally,” said Chhibber, who is also the U.N. development agency’s regional director for Asia. He spoke to reporters during a visit to Islamabad.

United States Pledges Millions in Emergency Aid for Pakistani Refugee Crisis

Islamabad, Pakistan- The United States pledged an additional $110 million in aid to Pakistan on Tuesday as over two million Pakistani citizens fled the onslaught from the Pakistani army on the Taliban in the Swat region and northern areas of Pakistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the new aid package which includes radios, tents, blankets, emergency generators, medical supplies and food aid for the people who have left their homes in the region due to the heavy fighting between the Pakistani army and the militants.

Most of the aid will be given directly to the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies operating in the region as there is still suspicion on the part of the Obama administration that giving it directly to Pakistan may risk in having some of it being squandered as it has happened in the past. The administration is also urging average Americans and especially Pakistani Americans to aid the effort by donating aid to relief agencies operating in Pakistan.

The Obama administration has also set up a texting service by which people can use their cellphone to pledge $5 to the people of Swat by texting the word “Swat” to 20222 on any cellphone in the US. Secretary Clinton herself contributed $5 by using the same service from her cell phone. A million people giving $5 through this service would equal an additional $5 million for the people of Swat she said and it would be a significant contribution from ordinary citizens to show they care about what is happening.

She praised the Pakistani government in fighting the Taliban and taking the fight to them. This was in stark contrast to her earlier assessment of the situation last month when she told Congress that “the Pakistani government was abdicating to the Taliban.” She stated that there is a real national change in mood within Pakistan and that both the people and the government now realize that the threat from the Taliban is not only isolated to the remote northern areas of Pakistan, but that rather their reach and their violence has recently extended to all the major cities like Lahore and Karachi as well which are mega cities of millions of people.

Indeed the earlier actions of the government of President Asif Ali Zardari ranging from making treaties that did not last with the Taliban to relinquishing control of parts of the Swat valley to the them as well as allowing Islamic Shariah law to appease the Islamic extremists, only showed the inconsistencies and failures of their policies. There is a saying in Pakistan that translates into “Those who are swayed by physical punishment, do not change with words.” The Taliban have shown that they are not fit to be dealt with through diplomacy and dialogue but rather only understand the power of the fist.

It is very encouraging that both the Pakistani government is finally seemingly serious about tackling the Taliban inside its borders and also that the US is earnest in helping assist the Pakistanis in this battle. Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that US policy towards Pakistan the past three decades has been very “incoherent.”

With a dedicated, determined and ever growing mutual threat like the Taliban as a common enemy, it is high time that both sides got their resources together and went after the militants with all their might.

It is never too late to stand up to evil and we at Pakistanis for Peace are very encouraged that the fight is finally being brought to the Taliban. It seems the recent meeting between Zardari and President Obama yielded some very good agreements and we hope that there is no letting up until the Taliban are destroyed and disbanded. This is where the global “War on Terror” will be fought and where it will be won.

Reporting by Manzer Munir for http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com

%d bloggers like this: