Expensive payback threat
A. Sattar Alvi
Afghanistan and the USA have signed Bilateral Security Agreement and the US/NATO troops are leaving Afghanistan. These are the people who were non-Afghans and had to leave Afghanistan some day. For them the war has ended and everybody is going home. But that is not really the end of war. What about the people who are Afghans, and were forced out of their country because they had to leave Afghanistan owing to US and NATO operations in Afghanistan? Logically, rationally and morally speaking, the US and NATO are responsible for this and the agreement should have covered the issue and established a mechanism to resettle these Afghan Refugees back in their country. There is no such mechanism, and if there is one, nobody knows anything about it.
As of now, Pakistan is hosting somewhere around 3 million Afghan refugees, and has been looking after them for the last about thirty years. This has been a tall order for Pakistani economy, law and order and narcotics smuggling. Even though there has been some international support, it has been totally inadequate. In the current economic and terrorism scenario, situation is going to get worse in the coming days unless there is help from the international community. This is the immediate short term requirement just to keep the refugees alive and healthy enough. What is even more important is the consideration of some factors which are more alarming than the mere food and housing for these refugees and would impact not only Pakistan but the entire world. It is simple mathematics.
It can be easily visualized that just one million refugees over a period of 30 years would produce at least 2 million offsprings, where at least half of them would be 18 years old. That means one million young men and women who are jobless, unskilled and with terror tales of Afghanistan would be susceptible to any desirable moulding. As we know, they are turning out to be an easy prey for terrorists to recruit from. In fact it has been pointed out that some refugee camps are regular haunts of the extremists. I wonder if the US and her NATO allies would be comfortable with that thought and the IS raising its head. Some forward camps have already been used by the Taliban to attack US forces in Afghanistan.
What would you consider to be an acceptable price to thwart a suicide bomberís attack of reasonable intensity? How much of an investment would the US or her NATO allies be willing to make to prevent such an attack or attacks? Very interesting question. The point that I want to make is that the US made a mistake in the post soviet withdrawal era and is doing it again. Only the way of doing it is different, with essentially the same effect. Pakistan has all the refugees because of what the US and NATO did in Afghanistan. Now the US and NATO are leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan is left holding the (adult) babies literally. Why should Pakistan continue to suffer? This is bound to bring bad results. There has to be a payback for what has been done in Afghanistan, possibly with an uncertain number of unhealthy installments. Just as the Americans like to say that there is no such thing as a free lunch, in Afghanistan there is no such thing as a free kill.
Let us not even mention the Afghan government for resettlement of refugees. Its meager resources and the implementation capacity are badly overstretched and recovery from post war problems totally rules out any such possibility. Returning refugees would be in dire need of food, shelter, employment and basic provisions that the Kabul government just cannot provide. In spite of her best intentions, UNHCR will not be able to do much in assisting the Kabul government in refugee problems.
Leaving aside the moral compulsion which is not a strong point of the US, the US and her NATO allies must appreciate the threat likely to emerge out of this dissatisfied lot of refugees. A similar problem exists for the Afghan and Pakistan government also, but there is no need to harp on it because one we are already paying back in life and property and two; the solution lies with the US and NATO countries only.
Here I am talking about the refugee situaton only, and not the colossal task of restoring normalcy in Afghanistan which would prompt them to return to Afghanistan. The refugees most willing and able to do so have already returned to Afghanistan. Persuading the remaining lot is going to be much harder. Until that happens, the US must fund the services required for the returnees and for those that remain in Pakistan. Equally important is the establishment of a system and mechanism to send the refugees back to their homes. Pakistan cannot hold on much longer. Just because it has done so for the last 30 years, is no guarantee that it would continue on that path. Believe it or not, Pakistan has changed and Afghans will continue to seek revenge for the harm done to them, particularly for the lives lost. If an American happens to read this article, please refer to my specific suggestions on this issue in a lecture to the Air War course of 1988-1989 at Maxwell AFB.