Major Security Challenges and Opportunities to Pakistan- Farhan Siddiqi

Pakistan is home to 1.4
million registered refugees, mostly Afghans, making it the fourth highest
refugee-recipient country in the world after Turkey, Colombia and Uganda. This
does not include unregistered
which have the impact of shoring Pakistan’s refugees figures close
to three million in total. Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee
Convention or the 1967 Protocol but it has respected the protocols of
international refugee protection.

Pakistan’s approach
towards refugees reveals a mix of humanitarian and security impulses. One of
the key problems relates to the refugees’ statelessness condition which renders
them incapable of receiving socio-economic benefits from the host state. This
compounds the dilemma for refugees as worsening security conditions forces them
to flee their home state to which they cannot return while domestic conditions
in the host state, including the latter’s socio-economic vulnerabilities, adds
to the refugees’ anxieties. Best practices emanating from the United Nations
High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) give substantive importance to the
naturalisation of refugees as citizens of the host state. Citizenship is seen
as a route towards the social, political and economic integration of refugees
into the host society. In this regard, the ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan soon
after assuming power in 2018 announced
that, “Afghans whose
children have been raised and born in Pakistan will be granted citizenship,
inshallah (God willing) because this is the established practice in countries
around the world.”

Statistics reveal
that ‘more than half (52 percent) of the registered refugee population
are children, including 197,428 (15 percent) being four years of age or under.
Only 4 percent of those registered are 60 years of age or older. Women,
children and older represent 76 percent of the population.’ These statistics
are important because they indicate an increasingly younger generation of
Afghan refugees who were born and raised in Pakistan. Most crucially, for this
refugee population group, the home country, Afghanistan represents an alien
society, one which they have not lived in, nor visited, nor do they feel an
emotional attachment to live and work there. In short, the host society now
enamours their existence as individuals, however they remain handicapped as a
consequence of legal and administrative formalities.

humanitarian impulse entails attending to the basic needs of refugees including
food, clothes, shelter and other socio-economic needs for which a targeted
action is warranted. This targeted action was undertaken between April and
December 2021, officially known as the Documentation Renewal and Information
Verification Exercise (DRIVE), a joint effort conducted by the Ministry of
States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), the Chief Commissionerate Commissioner
for Afghan Refugees (CCAR), and UNHCR with the technical assistance of the
National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).The purpose of the
exercise was to update and verify the data of Afghans holding a Proof of
Registration (PoR) card. This was the first large-scale effort to verify the
status of refugees in the last 10 years. The documentation was a much needed
effort to elicit true numbers and also posit Pakistan’s commitment to attending
to the rehabilitation of refugees. Under the new registration drive, Afghan
refugees were provided smart identity cards, which legitimised their status,
enabling them faster and safer access to health and education facilities as
well as financial services. In 2019, the UNHCR in collaboration with a local
NGO initiated the Artisans’ Skills Development Projects for Refugees in
Karachi. The initiative included supporting and training the Afghan refugee
women for small and micro enterprises across the country in the fields of
embroidery, tailoring and jewellery. The purpose of the initiative was to make
Afghan refugee women financially self-reliant. Civil society organisations
remain key actors in attending to the plights and woes of Afghan refugees. A
key element of such activities is they breed much needed social cohesion and
well-being of the refugee population. Not only refugees but such measures also sensitise
the local people to the basic human needs of the refugee population that is
living at the fringes of society.

Afghan refugees and security concerns

Security reasons are also imperative in
Pakistan’s attitude towards refugees specially with fears of negative spillover
including crime, terrorism and infiltration of rogue actors. The securitisation of
Afghan refugees as criminal, terrorist and deviant actors, a claim also
repeated sparingly by the political elite, bolstered the government’s drive to
construct a fence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In 2014, the Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa police incriminated the Afghan refugees for a high incidence of crime
not only in Peshawar but in all the 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The
police argued that the solution entails a restriction in the movement of Afghan
refugees in order to apply a brake on murders, thefts and kidnappings for
ransom. The predicament of Afghan refugees and their securitisation became
increasingly worrisome after Pakistan faced one of its most dreaded terrorist
attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014. The attack which
killed over 130 students resulted in a crackdown on Afghan refugees across the
country. The crackdown compelled many Afghan refugees to return to their home

the UN Secretary General applauded the efforts of Pakistan in attending to the
plight of Afghan refugees in the last 40 years. Pakistan’s
humanitarian-securitisation impulse on Afghan refugees is intimately connected
with the perennial instability that continues to plague Afghanistan. After the
withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, hundreds and thousands of
Afghan refugees made their way to Pakistan, from where Pakistan facilitated
their onward travel to Western countries. Pakistan has taken the plea that the
international community needs to undertake effective and constructive social
and economic rehabilitation through multilateral aid in Afghanistan in the
post-US withdrawal scenario, as Afghanistan remains a ravaged and war-torn society.
The nation- and state-building policies that the United States undertook in
Afghanistan since 2001 remained ineffective due to local Afghan political
elites who maintained a neopatrimonial political order leading to further
polarisation of Afghan society. Thus, for Pakistan, an amicable solution to the
continual influx of Afghan refugees requires political and socio-economic
stability in Afghanistan. A key question in this regard is whether the Taliban
government and the international community can move their relationship forward
through dialogue with the former attending to the fears of the latter, which
relate primarily to preventive mechanisms with respect to the outflow of
terrorism from Afghanistan.


90% of the border fencing with Afghanistan stands completed, the Pakistani
state, political parties and civil society would do well by striking a balance
between the humanitarian and securitisation impulses realising that refugees
are a vulnerable people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale, desiring
to live in peace and made homeless by extraneous wars not of their own making. The
humanitarian impulse allows Pakistan to work with international organisations such
as the UNHCR and other local NGOs in order to attend to the basic needs of refugees.
In doing so, it also aids in the building of a soft image of Pakistan; one which
is concerned not only about refugees in its own country but is also desirous of
peace and security in neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan understands that the
root cause of increased refugees in its national space is intimately linked
with instability in Afghanistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan also
attends to Pakistan’s geopolitical anxieties which emanate from a long, porous
and perilous border, a historical legacy of British colonialism. Thus, domestic
stability in Afghanistan also implies a stabilised geopolitics for Pakistan. Moreover,
the security element is not only interstate and transnational but also has
domestic implications. These relate to local-refugee interactions and how the
refugee issue becomes securitised as the Afghan ‘other’ is constructed through
a partisan discourse of ‘crime’, ‘economic burden’ and ‘terrorism.’ This othering
of Afghan refugees has the dire impact of undoing humanitarian efforts. Going
into the future, Pakistan’s key challenge exists in finding a durable solution
to the status of refugees, a majority of whom were born in Pakistan and reclaim
the country as their own. If repatriated through forced measures or securitisation
discourses, the Pakistani state stands to lose the moral high ground through
which it rehabilitated hundreds of thousands of refugees into its fold, despite
limited resources.

Dr. Farhan Siddiqi, Quaid-I-Azam University

Farhan Hanif Siddiqi is Associate Professor and Director in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. In addition, he has also worked as Research Fellow at the Middle East Research Institute in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. His research interests border on ethnicity, conflict resolution, theories of International Relations, foreign policy and strategic dynamics in South Asia. He is the author of, The Politics of Ethnicity in Pakistan: The Baloch, Sindhi and Mohajir Ethnic Movements (Routledge, 2012). His forthcoming co-authored book is titled, Introducing International Relations: Concepts, Theories and Practices (Oxford University Press, 2022).

To cite this work : Farhan Siddiqi “Major Security Challenges and Opportunities to Pakistan”, Panorama, Online , 08 August 2022,

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