Winning: Voting With Your Feet


November 8, 2010: Is the Taliban winning in Afghanistan? Afghan refugees in Pakistan are voting with their feet, and the tally is going against the Afghan Taliban. Twice has many (over 110,000 refugees) retuned to Afghanistan this year than last. It wasn't just that things are more peaceful on the Afghan side of the border. There have been other factors, like the recent flood in Pakistan, and the fact that the Pakistan government is eager to get the remaining Afghan refugees (from the 1980s war with Russia) out of the country. Since September 11, 2001, over 4.5 million have returned (most from Pakistan). After so many years, an increasing number either no longer have a home to return to (because of Taliban violence, property disputes or the village is simply gone). Currently, about 30 percent of the returnees do not return to the home they left over two decades ago. Some go to a city or to stay with kin, while many stay, for a while, in refugee camps.

It was the Pakistani Army offensive against the Taliban over the last two years that has had a major impact on Afghan refugees suddenly changing their minds about living in Pakistan. During last Summer, over a thousand refugees a day applied for UN assistance to return home. There are over two million Afghan refugees still in Pakistan. Many of those who remained had settled down and didn't want to move. Several efforts by the Pakistani government to persuade the Afghans to go home, have failed.

Some 200,000 Afghan refugees are living outside the tribal territories (along the Afghan border), in Sind and Punjab, and are often involved in criminal and terrorist operations. Many of these Afghans are in major cities, like Karachi, where some provide support for Islamic terrorists. Pakistan would like all the illegal Afghan refugees to go home, but many have fit right in, along with their legitimate and criminal activities.

Afghanistan has had a hard time taking back all the refugees. After the Taliban government fell in late 2001, there were six million Afghans in exile in Iran (two million) and Pakistan (the rest). Since then, so many of these refugees have returned, that it caused a population increase of over 20 percent in Afghanistan. Despite billions of dollars in international aid, it's been hard absorbing that many people. But the continued movement of refugees back into Afghanistan indicates how these displaced people feel about where the safest place to live is.





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