Wednesday Sep 26, 2018
I first left Afghanistan, and crossed over into Pakistan, in 1988. Back then, I was running; afraid for my life, leaving behind a bloody war. My wife and two young children journeyed with me for days. Everything I had ever owned, I had now left behind in the country of my birth.
Pakistan was an alien country to me. I had neither a roof over my head not a penny to my name. In order to make ends meet, and to feed my family, I worked various jobs in Peshawar. By the time I had two more children, I had collected enough money to open a small electric appliance store on Peshawar’s Dalazak road.
All four of my children were raised here, in Pakistan. Two were even born here. For them, and for me, Pakistan is now home.
Well, at least that is what we thought.
In the last few years, officers have been visiting our residence. They tell us that we must go back to Afghanistan – the country I left 30 years ago. Asking me to return to Afghanistan is like forcing me to walk on fire.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve visited my country of birth several times in the past for a wedding or a funeral. But every time I went I left like a stranger in a strange land. I have my roots in Pakistan now. My shop is here. My children have only known Pakistan. Why should they have to leave their country and live in mine?
Last month, someone told me about a speech our Prime Minister Imran Khan made. He promised to grant citizenship to the million or so Afghan refugees and Bengalis living in Pakistan for decades. I heard he said that all those born in the country will be given passports. It was exciting news. My uncertainty was almost over. A few days later, I heard that the prime minister hesitated when asked again about the right of citizenship. I heard that he would no longer be able to deliver on his promise.
Prime Minister, I do not have the means to restart a life in Afghanistan. Pakistan is my Garden of Eden. My paradise. Please don’t take it away from me.
There are so many others like me. Peshawar’s dusty Afghan Colony is overpopulated with similar stories. They are poor. They fled a war in the 80s and have worked hard since then to set up small businesses such as grocery and leather shops and kiosks.
Several times in a week, the police show up and arrest the men. It has been an endless cycle of harassment and confusion.
Pakistan was once an alien country to me. Today, it is home. But now I and my children are the aliens. Is that fair?
As narrated to Aftab Ahmed