Geopolitics

Cruel Border Stories Between Pakistan And Afghanistan

At the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on March 20
At the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on March 20
Mudassar Shah

PESHAWAR Ayesha Rahmat, a 31-year-old mother of five, lives in a small, two-room house with an open kitchen in this northern Pakistani city. The smell of the bathroom cuts through the air.

Ayesha has four daughters and a son, but her husband of more than 20 years, Rahmat Khan, is gone — Ayesha says his absence has left her in a desperate situation.

"I have stopped taking my medicine as I don't have money to buy it," Ayesha said. "My children have only eaten one meal a day for the last month. We have not paid utility bills. The owner of the house has asked us to vacate the house next month because we haven't been able to pay rent for the last few months."

Ayesha's husband Rahmat lived in Pakistan his entire life. He was born in the country after his parents fled Afghanistan during the Russian war of the 1970s. But two months ago, he was forcefully repatriated to Afghanistan.

I was asked to quit my studies in grade nine because my father is Afghan.

Even though Rahmat married a Pakistani woman and their children were born and raised in Pakistan, Ayesha says the family has limited rights.

"Our country's laws are so cruel toward women," she cried. "I am a Pakistani citizen, but I can't get citizenship for my Afghan husband, who is the sole breadwinner for my family."

Their 14-year-old daughter, Naznin, says she now has to stay home all day, unable to continue her studies. "I was asked to quit my studies in grade nine because my father is Afghan," she said.

"I was born in Pakistan, but that doesn't qualify me for a Pakistani identity card. My mother is a Pakistani national, but even so, I'm not allowed to continue my studies in Pakistani schools. It was my dream to be a doctor. But that dream has been shattered because of clashes between the two countries, and their strict policies," she said.

Afghan nationals wait to cross the border — Photo: Sidique/Xinhua/ZUMA

Until Feb. 27, people from both countries could cross the Afghan-Pakistan border without passports or visas. Many took advantage of that freedom, fleeing war in Afghanistan.

There are about 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, and another million who are undocumented, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Thousands of Afghans have married Pakistanis.

Rafi Ullah, an Afghan truck driver, recently married a Pakistani woman. They have been stranded at the border for a week, trying to cross into Afghanistan, but she does not have a passport.

Law enforcement agencies have started "search and strike" operations in areas where Afghan refugees live, tracking down Afghans and forcibly deporting them.

A 2,500-kilometer-long border divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. People on both sides share the same language, religion and culture, and the countries have long had cordial relations.

But the situation quickly deteriorated after a terrorist attack in Pakistan in December 2014. Afghan militants were blamed for the attack, and Pakistan temporarily closed the border. Since then, there has been a growing number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, prompting the government to abolish visa-free travel.

Law enforcement agencies have started "search and strike" operations in areas where Afghan refugees live, tracking down Afghans and forcibly deporting them.

Late last year dozens of Pakistani women married to Afghan men took to the streets to demand that their husbands be allowed to stay. But many are left with no way to make a living and no sign of when their families might be reunited.

At Ayesha's house, her husband is on the phone from Kabul. He tells her he plans to take a second wife, after just two months apart.

"My husband has decided to marry in Afghanistan," she tells me. "I noticed that his voice has changed when he talks to me. He says he needs someone to look after him there, but I can't ask for the same thing. It's taboo. I am getting punished for a sin I didn't commit."

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Polish-Belarusian Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.


It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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