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The Plight of Afghan Children in the Shadows of Conflict

On October 26, Pakistan’s government gave a last warning to all illegal immigrants in the country, together with hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals, to leave voluntarily before November 1. The decision came after Afghan nationals were found to be involved in crimes, smuggling, and attacks against the government and the military, including 14 out of 24 suicide bombings this year, reported the Afghan Diaspora Network. A land where destitute Afghanis once sought refuge and solace is forcing them out of what has now become their homeland. They escaped the terrors of the Taliban and are now faced with the wrath of the Pakistani government and the military.

This is a picture I came across on Twitter of detained Afghan kids entering the Sultanabad detention center. This picture brings me immense shame in being a citizen of Pakistan – a country that does not respect humans and children. It reflects a government that appears hypocritical, condemning Israel while dehumanizing refugees within its borders. Children all over the world are children. Be it Palestinians or Afghan refugees, all children deserve the right to be protected, to stay with their parents, not to be displaced, to be loved by their mothers, to be educated, and not to be subjected to violence.

No child is illegal.

An Afghan refugee in Karachi expressed concerns, stating, "We're tolerating what they're doing with our women and kids, and if it continues, what's happening in Palestine will happen here too." The two most vulnerable segments of the population are being targeted solely for political reasons. Going back to Afghanistan would mean living under constant fear and threats from the Taliban. Women’s mobility and education will be restricted, and children won’t be able to access good quality education.

The academic year in Palestine was suspended because there weren’t any children left to attend the schools anymore. And Pakistan is forcibly disrupting the education of young children by detaining them and terrifying them. A country that still suffers from the trauma of the APS attack has the audacity to label Afghan children as illegal immigrants. This forceful expulsion is not a recent occurrence; Sharbat Gula, the famous Afghan girl, was arrested on charges of fraudulent identity in 2016. She served 15 days in prison and was then deported to Afghanistan, away from a “very good life in Pakistan.” She blamed the photo for her arrest, saying: “The photo created more problems than benefits. However, in November 2021, Gula was granted asylum in Italy, three months after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The plea to prioritize education response funding, in line with basic needs like water, food, shelter, and health, remains pertinent. Pakistan, as a host country, has consistently failed to provide adequate provisions for Afghan refugees. Instead of mirroring the harsh tactics of states like Israel, Pakistan should approach the issue of illegal citizens with humanity, exploring avenues for resettlement and identity document processing.

The question persists: Can Pakistan chart a course that respects the principles it ostensibly champions? The situation demands a recalibration of policies, aligning actions with the professed ideals of humanitarian responses. The world watches, not just as a nation confronts its own internal contradictions but as it shapes its identity on the global stage.

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