An Afghan Homecoming

SInce the fall of the Taliban government in November 2001, more that 3.5 million Afghan refugees have come home, mainly from Pakistan. But their return is neither safe nor always voluntary.

KABUL – As if the armed conflict between Afghan government forces supported by the American-led coalition and the Taliban were not enough, Afghanistan is faced with a crisis that it wishes it could call a success: the Big Return.

From Jalalabad to Herat – indeed, all over northern Afghanistan – you can see the signs of Afghans returning from exile. Colorful Pakistani trucks are everywhere, carrying beams and wooden window, door, and bed frames, with wives and children sitting on top.

The scale of the displacement was enormous: at the height of the exodus, up to six million Afghans were living outside their country, mainly in Pakistan and Iran. Roughly three-quarters of them fled after the Soviet invasion in 1979, with smaller numbers escaping the rule of pro-Soviet president Najibullah or the subsequent 1992-1996 civil war between the various mujahideen parties and then the rule of the Taliban. Some – having supported the Taliban – fled after their leaders were ousted when the Northern Alliance entered Kabul in November 2001.