LONDON: Dr Moeed Yusuf, National Security Adviser for Pakistan while pointing out the Afghan policy of his country has said thatPakistan cannot “bear the brunt” of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban. He warned there cannot be a “free for all” of refugees over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The comments come after UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace advised Afghans who had not been called for evacuation flights out of Kabul to try to head for the border instead. The UK government has said it wants to work with the Islamabad government to use Pakistan as a “safe passage” third country for Afghans eligible to resettle in the UK.
But Dr Yusuf rebuked western governments for assuming Pakistan can take more refugees. He said there are already 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Speaking from Islamabad at a webinar hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank in London on Thursday, Dr Yusuf accused the West of “glossing over” the fact that 80,000 Pakistan nationals had died in the war on terror in the wake of 9/11, while the country had lost $150bn as a result of that 20-year campaign.
He added: “When people talk about a fresh refugee wave, Pakistan cannot simply have a free for all and say ‘it is right that Pakistan should house people’.
Dr Yusuf said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was already very porous because the former Afghan government had refused to accept stricter biometric checks and border security. “Pakistan has been the victim of the war in Afghanistan for the past two decades,” he added.
He pointed out that Pakistan had been excluded from international talks with the Taliban in Doha last year, at which the withdrawal of US and UK troops was agreed.
Dr Yusuf said Pakistan had warned that withdrawal should not come before a political settlement between Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban, but their warning was ignored.
The event hosted by the think tank, Policy Exchange provided an opportunity to respond to questions posed by the Parliamentarians and address their queries. Luminaries who participated in the discussion included Lord Salisbury; Lord Dawson; MP Tobias Elwood, Chair of the Commons Defence Committee; MP Tom Tugendhat, Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as MPs Nus Ghani and Khalid Mahmood.
Contextualizing the war in Afghanistan, Dr. Yusuf highlighted that Pakistan had been a victim of the war, having suffered 80,000 casualties, incurred economic losses of $ 150 billion and faced 2 million internally displaced. Pakistan was also the only country that had been honest and forthright about the ground reality all along, stressing that there was no military solution to the conflict; that the dispensation in Kabul needed to be broad-based and that the Afghan National Army may not prove durable.
Regrettably, Pakistan’s advice was never heeded. While Pakistan had played its role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, it was never made part of the parleys. The desired course of action would have been to put in place a political settlement before the withdrawal. However, the way things have transpired it has ended up in capitulation, the responsibility for which could not be laid at Pakistan’s doorstep in any way.
Even now, Pakistan was doing all it could to assist the international community in evacuation plans. Pakistan had so far evacuated over 7000 nationals from 18 countries. Pakistan International Airlines had diverted flights from its domestic operations to Kabul Airport, and flown over 500 out.
The National Security Advisor warned that if the international community were to repeat the mistakes of the 1990’s, when Afghanistan and Pakistan were abandoned, and Pakistan was sanctioned after having been a frontline ally for a decade, the outcome would be no different. It was disappointing to see concerns being expressed only for Afghans who had worked with the international community while ignoring the plight of the ordinary Afghans, who would continue to remain in need of economic and humanitarian assistance.
They also deserved attention. Pakistan has constantly talked about an inclusive political settlement and stability in Afghanistan for which now the ground reality must be acknowledged and the Taliban engaged by the international community. More than Pakistan, it was the west that enjoyed leverage over Taliban in terms of extending aid, and de jure recognition.
The need of the hour was for the international community was to remain constructively engaged and to use its leverage in a coordinated manner to influence Taliban’s policy. Pakistan’s hope and effort was that the dispensation in Kabul would be inclusive and broad-based; human rights including women rights would be respected; and that Afghan soil will be not be used against other countries.
He added that it was presumptuous to believe that a mass exodus of refugees was imminent. The effort at this juncture should be to avoid such an eventuality through continued economic and political engagement. Pakistan on its part, was already doing more than its capacity, and could not be expected to absorb massive influx of refugees, which was a joint responsibility of the entire international community.
Dr. Yusuf further stressed that it was high time Pakistan’s positive role was acknowledged, and the temptation to pressure Pakistan to endlessly ‘do more’, shunned. Pakistan has already done much.