Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on Pakistan’s Imran Khan

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In this picture taken on September 29, 2018, Afghan refugee Ashiqullah Jan visits a shop with his children in Peshawar. (AFP / ABDUL MAJEED)
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In this picture taken on September 29, 2018 Afghan refugee women check cloth at a shop in the historic Qissa Khawani bazaar in Peshawar. (AFP / ABDUL MAJEED)
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In this picture taken on September 29, 2018 Afghan refugee Shahzad Alam (R) deals with customers at his shoe shop at historic Qissa Khawani bazaar in Peshawar. (AFP / ABDUL MAJEED)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on Pakistan’s Imran Khan

  • Pakistan is home to an estimated 2.4 million people who have fled Afghanistan
  • Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone born in the country after 1951 has the right to citizenship

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Shahzad Alam has proposed marriage to several women and been rejected each time for the same reason, he says: their discovery that he is not the Pakistani shoe shop owner they thought he was, but an Afghan refugee.
His romantic future could be given a boost by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has ignited a national debate with a controversial vow to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees born in Pakistan — potentially creating more than a million new citizens.
Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.
But many Pakistanis view them with suspicion, accusing them of spurring militancy and criminality, and calling for them to be sent home.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone born in the country after 1951 has the right to citizenship. But feeling against the refugees is so strong that no leader has dared take moves to implement the policy — Khan’s promise is the first time any Pakistani premier has made such a vow.
Refugees greeted his words joyfully. Twitter users joked that Khan could now win elections in Afghanistan. “May God bless Imran Khan,” Alam told AFP.
But the announcement has also prompted a national outcry, with columnists claiming he had opened a “Pandora’s Box.” Heads of Pakistan’s main opposition parties quickly condemned it.
As the debate continues in the country’s newspapers and on social media, salesman Alam’s life remains in limbo.
Alam speaks with a Pakistani accent, dresses in Pakistani fashions, and has lived all his life in the northwestern city of Peshawar where he was born after his parents fled Afghanistan in 1979.
Although he says women have asked him to propose marriage in the past, the relationship would always “end the moment we introduce ourselves as Afghan.”

Forced repatriations
The United Nations says there are 1.4 million Afghans registered as refugees in Pakistan, and estimates that some 74 percent were born there.
Many live in camps, while others have created lives for themselves in Pakistan’s cities, marrying and raising children, opening shops and supporting themselves.
In one Peshawar bazaar, thousands of Afghans could be seen running hundreds of shops bursting with local and Chinese goods, fresh fruits, and vegetables — visible signs of their economic contributions.
“I feel like I am in my own village, my own country,” said Ashiqullah Jan, a 43-year-old refugee.
But their status has always been temporary, with deadlines set for them to leave Pakistan repeatedly pushed back as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens.
Many analysts predict security will continue to deteriorate in 2019 despite a renewed push for peace talks.
In 2016 a wave of forced repatriations from Pakistan to Afghanistan sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis. The decision by Khan is a significant departure from such policies.
“When you are born in America, you get the American passport... so why not here? How cruel it is for them,” he said when announcing the measure last September.
Much of the outcry prompted by his words has been centered on security fears. Pakistan has fought a long and bloody war with militancy, with the army often blaming extremists based in Afghanistan and claiming insurgents hide in refugee camps.
Khan has reiterated his support for the measure, but faced with the outcry has not yet formally taken it to parliament.
Analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai warned that even if the prime minister — who has developed a reputation for U-turns since coming to power last July — does push the policy through, implementing it will take time.
“It won’t be easy to give them citizenship or to develop a consensus on the issue in parliament or in the country,” he said.

“I was born here”
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has welcomed the move.
“So many of the young Afghan refugees were born here and they only know Pakistan,” country representative Ruvendrini Menikdiwela told AFP.
Most Pakistanis who spoke to AFP in the bazaars of Peshawar, whose proximity to the Afghan border has made it a center for refugees, remained staunchly opposed.
The government should send the refugees home “as soon as possible,” 42-year-old Rehman Gul told AFP.
Azeem Khan, a fresh produce seller, was one of the few Pakistanis supporting the move — but his stance sparked a heated argument among his customers.
Refugee Khayesta Khan, one of the customers, told AFP there was “nothing left” in Afghanistan but “the Taliban and Daesh and bombs.”
“I was born here... Pakistan is my country and I do not want to leave it,” he said as the fiery debate subsided.


Acting Pentagon chief not decided yet on funding US-Mexico border wall

Updated 17 February 2019
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Acting Pentagon chief not decided yet on funding US-Mexico border wall

  • President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval
  • Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.
President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval.
A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Shanahan was likely to approve the $3.6 billion being redirected from the military construction budget.
By declaring a national emergency, Trump can use certain Department of Defense funding to build the wall.
According to the law, the defense secretary has to decide whether the wall is militarily necessary before money from the military construction budget can be used.
“We always anticipated that this would create a lot of attention and since moneys potentially could be redirected, you can imagine the concern this generates,” Shanahan told reporters traveling back with him from his trip to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.
“Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions, we have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions,” Shanahan said.
He added that military planners had done the initial analysis and he would start reviewing it on Sunday.
Officials have said that the administration had found nearly $7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including about $3.6 billion from the military construction budget and $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund.
The US defense official said Shanahan would meet with the service secretaries in the coming days to pick which specific projects the money should come from.
Shanahan said that planners had identified the different sources of money that could be used, but he had not decided specifically what projects it would impact and ultimately it was his decision.
“I am not required to do anything,” he said.
Shanahan said he did not expect to take money away from projects like military housing.
Poor standards of military housing were highlighted by recent Reuters reporting, which described rampant mold and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers.
“Military housing, what’s been interesting- I’ve received a number of letters, I’ve had lots of feedback, do not jeopardize projects that are underway,” Shanahan said.
“As we step our way through the process, we’ll use good judgment,” Shanahan said.
The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall that Trump insists is necessary to curtail illegal immigration.
Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners.
“We are following the law, using the rules and we’re not bending the rules,” Shanahan said.