Sanaa Alimia, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin

Narratives of Fear for Pakistan’s Afghan Refugees: Discrimination, Detention, and Deportation

I carry my identity card with me at all times. Even when I sleep.
Interview, Peshawar (April 2016).

Borders are constructed and indeed policed with the very feeling that they have already been transgressed: the other has to get too close in order to be recognized as an object of fear, and in order for the object to be displaced.
Sara Ahmed, ‘Affective Economies’, Social Text, 22 (2004):2, 132.

In Pakistan, as is the case elsewhere, the border is not simply situated at a geographic space, rather it is situated in individuals and groups and it is something that is felt.

Pakistan’s long-standing Afghan refugee population are increasingly constructed as the dangerous mobile border. However, historical legacies of colonial boundary drawing, contemporary globalised wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s north-western areas, and ethno-federal structures of discrimination within Pakistan mean the experience of ‘bordering’ is also felt by Pakistan’s devalued and quasi-citizens, most notably Pashtuns from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In the 2000s and 2010s, in the context of the ‘War on Terror’, being positioned on the spectrum of the ‘Afghan/Pashtun’ border is to be subject to increased forms of violence – including military operations, drone warfare, internal policing, and routine harassment and discrimination.

Through the analysis of specific cases of stop-and-searches, check-posts, arbitrary detention, and, for Afghans, coercive repatriation schemes in Peshawar, Karachi, and Islamabad, this paper draws out the ways in which everyday life and mobility is laced with fear and uncertainty for these ‘bordered bodies’ (Afghan refugees, undocumented migrants, and devalued and quasi-citizens in Pakistan) – an experience that is also intersected by gender, class, and ethnicity.

However, by focusing on the cases of mass arrests and deportations of Afghans at various junctures in 2010–2016, the paper also draws out the ways in which the norms of the territorial nation-state mean that non-citizen Afghans exist in a different type of vulnerability, where the intention of the state (and supporting international actors) appears to be to directly and indirectly enforce repatriation to Afghanistan. If sovereign power is contingent upon repeated ‘performances’ upon subjects, this paper explores how the state creates emotional responses via day-to-day harassment, mass arrests, and deportation with the aim of coercing them to leave the country. Through the analysis of narratives of fear that circulate among Afghans in Pakistan, this paper explores how more and more Afghans are affected to leave Pakistan.

All seminars in the series.