- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Thousands of Afghan refugees who had returned home earlier this year have returned to Pakistan, many complaining that they were unable to find jobs in Afghanistan and that life there was simply too difficult.
A spokesman for the United Nations confirmed in Islamabad confirmed that large numbers were back, "but there's no way to put a figure on it," because the returnees were keeping away from the refugee villages they had left earlier.
"We know they are coming, because we have our officials at the Pakistan border," said spokesman Jack Redden. The Pakistani authorities are looking the other way, "so long as they don't settle in the cities."
The urban areas, however, may be precisely where the returnees are settling again. One Afghan refugee who fled Jalalabad a few weeks ago because he could not find a job, said he used to work in a Karachi factory and that would try to get his job back.
A total of 1.6 million Afghan refugees returned home between March 1, when a mass exodus began, and the end of September, when the number was reduced to a trickle. That accounted for almost half of the 3.3 million Afghan refugees, some of whom had been living in Pakistan for more than two decades.
An estimated 200,000 have gone back on their own, without help from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
"There are none returning home now," Mr. Redden said. "It's already quite cold in Afghanistan."
Some refugees came back from northern Afghanistan because of heavy fighting between local warlords.
Abdul Rauf Ajmal, whose father and uncles fled to Pakistan 23 years ago, was one of those who decided earlier this year not to return home. The family left behind a farm near Pul-i-Khumri, 105 miles southeast of Mazar-Sharif, close to where the warlords were battling.
The family now lives in a mud-brick house in the Jalozai refugee camp, 20 miles southeast of Peshawar, Pakistan.
"My father says it is too early to go now," Mr. Ajmal said. The family will return home when things begin to return to normal.
Mr. Ajmal's father, once a soldier in the army of the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, fled to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Mr. Ajmal, now 23, wasn't yet a 1-year-old and does not remember the trip. He has never been back.
Mr. Ajmal's father, an ethnic Pashtun, was wise not to return. Tajiks and Uzbeks, who make up the ethnic majority in northern Afghanistan, turned savagely on Pashtuns after the fall of the Taliban.
Pashtuns fled the area, but Pakistan clamped down on new refugee arrivals, and hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns became refugees in their own country.
With winter approaching, the U.N. refugee agency has built a camp for 60,000 internal refugees at Zhara Dashte, or Yellow Plain, in the desert near Kandahar.
Water, shelter and food made available by the UNHCR could attract thousands more to Zhara Dashte, once word gets around, and U.N. officials expect the number to swell to 400,000.
There are estimated to be 600,000 internally displaced persons the U.N. term for internal refugees in southern Afghanistan today, mainly Pashtuns who fled from the north after the Taliban collapse.
"There was an agreement signed" this month between the warlords in northern Afghanistan, Mr. Redden says, so he hopes peace will return. Whether the refugees will be ready to go back any time soon remains uncertain.


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