The fire created by the controversy surrounding the appointment of Dr. Atif R. Mian to the Economic Advisory Councils is yet to die down. And, emerging from the ashes of that terrible public debacle is the controversy of Khan’s promise to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees. Just two days ago, Imran Khan announced that he vows to grant citizenship to thousands of Afghan refugees who were born on Pakistani soil. Since the Soviet Occupation in 1979, people have fled Afghanistan, finding a safe zone across the Durand Line in Pakistan. Today, over 1.4 million Afghan refugees are registered in the demographics of Pakistan. Imran Khan believes that their lack of citizenship has forced the refugees to resort to the black labor market and petty criminality to sustain themselves. Survival instinct can take the crudest shape and form, but anyone from a certain level of economic and social privilege will not relate to this; willingly or unwillingly.
He says that his earlier statement was to initiate a debate on the topic. But, Parliament is set to offer stiff resistance. The PTI holds a slim majority and Khan’s announcement on Sunday was condemned by politicians in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces, who fear the impact of enfranchising new voters. According to the Guardian, one of Khan’s key coalition partners, the army-supporting chief minister of Balochistan, Jam Kamal, said Pakistan should not alter its policy of seeking to send refugees home. The military has long called for the repatriation of Afghan refugees, blaming them for terrorist attacks.
One would say the initial promise was a reasonable enough an imperative by Khan on humanitarian grounds? Not really.
This seeming act of goodwill would have served as a means to two fruitful ends. First, it would have fostered internal unity. Because nothing speaks to national cohesion more than glossing over personal differences. Bringing Afghan refugees into the fabric of Pakistan’s nationalism would have helped bridge the skeptic divide to some extent at least. Secondly, it would just be an act of granting some security to people living in Pakistan since birth. For a refugee, particularly born in Pakistan, the country is all that they know of home. We are hell bent on proving them as ‘traitors’ simply to vilify them further by practicing our habitual bouts of hatred and mistrust. Something we collectively practice as a nation towards each other, let alone the Afghan refugees. So granting them citizenship would also be an act of empathy, to say the least.
‘Josh-e-Khitabat‘, a term that has pretty much become synonymous with our politicians, has come to feature Imran Khan’s politics as well. We all know Pakistani politics is a dirty game. Even if Imran Khan has noble intentions and himself is free of corruption, it is practically impossible that those who surround him within his circle and the opposition are also free of corruption. Or free from power-hungry inclinations, more aptly. They will always try to resist measures that Khan suggests in all his good intentions. However, Khan sahab needs to know that he isn’t the real injured party when his tall claims fall flat. He is already in power and will be for the next five years. Those who will really suffer from this flicker of hope and disappointment all within 24 hours are the Afghan refugees. Imagine finally being promised a homeland to call your own with full legal documentation and then someone tells you to hit pause because those in power are irked by your access to stability. Moreover, the social tides that were never in favor of the displaced become more vociferously opposed to Afghan refugees amidst them. The refugees will, unfortunately, face intense hate over social media and in real time alike.
Just like Ahmadis faced a lot of backlash because the Prime Minister tried to include a qualified Ahmadi for a deserving position in government ranks. Mr. Khan, your claims hurt real people, impact real families. Please think before you speak, because your own countrymen are not experimental guinea’s for you to gauge public reaction and ‘initiate a debate’. Carry on with deliberations with your affluent ones behind closed doors if you must – just don’t make spur of the moment statements that place a target on the backs of already marginalized populations in Pakistan.