By Akif Sattar.
It was reported by UNHCR Refugee Agency that more than 3,50,000 Afghan refugees, documented and undocumented had returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan so far in 2016. The most widely discussed case was of Nat-Geo Afghan Girl ‘Sharbat Gula’. It was not just a deportation. In addition to face-off an expulsion, she has paid a sum of Rs. 1,10,000 as fine and spent 15 days in prison as ordered by a special anti-corruption and immigration court in Peshawar. She was caught by Federal Investigation Agency over holding a fake Pakistani ID card and UNHCR also stated that she was not a registered refugee. Keeping in view the strictly followed actions of interior ministry to send back settled Afghan refugees, regardless of their ‘registered or unregistered’ status, it can be assumed that we the Government of Pakistan is following a policy of deporting illegal immigrants.
Newly elected president has also campaigned for presidency with the same set of policies regarding immigrants’ particularly illegal immigrants. As a matter of fact, he came up with a more vividly prescribed policy regarding deportation of immigrants. He clearly pledged to focus the illegal immigrants with criminal record, in the first phase. Therefore, the policy would not encompass all immigrants especially the legal one’s and even he has not mentioned all illegal immigrants but only those with some criminal history and record. However, the critiques of Trump in Pakistan criticizing the new president for his policy regarding deportation, might not be knowing the fact that Pakistan and many other countries toeing the same policy with strict actions regarding illegal immigrants. Let me quote another example form Muslim country with inflexible immigration policy against Muslims. Saudi Arabia has deported as many as 123,527 Pakistanis who were illegally residing in the Kingdom. Unfortunately, during last five years, sum of 2,53,894 Pakistani nationals has returned home after they have declared as unlawful migrants.
According to the fact sheet of ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saudi Arabia topped the list to deport illegal Pakistani migrants whereas Iran remained second to send 39,203 Pakistanis home during 2009-14. United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Greece followed them by expatriating 36,371, 29,945 and 13,274 Pakistanis during the same period. However, poorly thought-out criticism against both, the US policies and the President has always been taken seriously and widely accepted in Pakistan.
Likewise he has to take all possible measures which could help him to tackle the problem on permanent basis. Therefore, his intention to build-up a fence or wall at the southern borders with Mexico make some sense, as the United States Department of Homeland Security explains that 45% population of illegal immigrants settled in the southern states of California, Texas, Arizona and Florida. Nonetheless, the issue is purely domestic and has nothing to do with the Pakistani as well as Muslim diaspora in the States. If someone is living in US without any legal cover, he or she has to face the consequences as faced by Sharbat Gula and many others. Otherwise, Trump has clearly stressed his supports to stop harassing minorities and he particularly mentioned that ‘stop harassing Muslims’. There is a need to understand that Muslims of United States and illegal immigrants are the two different entities. Pew Research Centre claims that current Muslim population is about 3.5 Million that make 1% of the total population of USA. If the illegal immigrants will be having difficult time ahead in US, it does not mean that Muslims of United States would have a tough time.
As far as the utility of new ‘Trump’ card is concerned, there is nothing to worry about. Historical journey of Pak – US relationship has already many rough patches and another bad patch will not be so significant. Just to refresh the memory, we can count number of incidents which can be termed as disastrous. Post 9/11 relationship and drone attacks in Pakistan was never a favour to Pakistan. OBL episode and Salala incident was a nightmare. The case of 8 F-16s is another fiasco on this turbulent journey when congress refused to pay the amount of $430 Million from Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme to equip Pakistan with 8 jet fighters. Over and above, their “do more” demand was always there despite of the fact that Pakistan is the front line ally of United States in war against terror with the human loss in thousands. Therefore, the new ‘Trump’ card for Pakistan, will be as risky as the old ‘Bush’ was.
Secondly, growing influence of China in the region with ‘one belt one road’ initiative has enabled Pakistan to be less dependent on United States. CPEC has brought $46 billion investment to Pakistan. This project has substantial economic and strategic benefits encompassing the most significant and much needed areas like railways, highways, steel, automotive, electricity, engineering and technology. Nonetheless, newly elected president is now taking aside from the popular rhetoric which he had built up during his presidential campaign. Pakistan should not be reliant on US as we used to be. In present scenario, having CPEC in the picture, Pakistan is at much better position than that of past. If all goes well, agreements on energy including gas, coal and solar will be able to provide up to 10,400 megawatts (MW) of energy. Likewise other sectors including infrastructure, trade and strategic partnership with China will rise.
At the same time, Pakistan should not be worried about Indo – US relationship in the post Trump scenario. Most of us worried that US will have better and smoother interaction with India than that of Pakistan. Consequently, Indian influence in the region will be more effective. We have to keep this fact in mind that India had always a very good working relationship with United States. India has signed a nuclear deal with US and US also backs India for the membership of nuclear suppliers group. Moreover, United States is the 2nd largest trading partner of India. Therefore, the new ‘Trump’ card will not be a game changer for India. Pakistan has to play its own cards while keeping national interest at the top followed by the international norms and behavior.
The writer is associated with an international developmental organization. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org