Today, between 2.5 to 3 million Afghans live in Pakistan. Around 1.3 million are registered as refugees with the government of Pakistan and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). An additional 1 to 2 million are undocumented migrants. Approximately 74% of Afghans were born in Pakistan, whilst the remaining 26% were born in Afghanistan (Government of Pakistan and UNHCR 2012: 12).
In the 2000s and 2010s, against the backdrop of the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) and a deteriorating relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, many Afghans in Pakistan, primarily men, find themselves routinely being profiled at security checkpoints and/or in their neighbourhoods, harassed, subject to extortion, and/or detained arbitrarily. Some have been deported. The experiences of violence reflect how the male body is constructed as a threat to “state security”. To give an example, in 2016 a terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda killed twenty-one people and injured another thirty-five (Dawn, 2016). Pakistani intelligence services released an initial statement describing the attackers as likely to be Afghan. Immediately after “political experts” declared that the only way these attacks can be stopped is if “Afghans [in Pakistan] are confined to refugee camps and made to leave.”
In human rights and journalistic reports we often hear about male experiences of these forms of violence. Yet in a society based on interconnected nuclear, intergenerational, and/or joint family units, how are women impacted when their male dependents are arrested, harassed, abused, and/or deported? And what can be said about the women’s own experiences of state, political, and other forms of violence in Pakistan?