By the BBC's Martin Plaut in Quetta
Pakistan, which has provided a safe haven for Afghans for more
than 25 years, is becoming increasingly reluctant to take any more.
Some of the three million Afghan refugees in the country have
been there for many years, in camps that have become permanent villages.
Pakistan's primary interest is that the needs of the refugees
should be addressed inside Afghanistan
Pakistan Minister of Refugees
In the area around the town of Quetta, in the south-western province of
Baluchistan these camps are dotted along the road leading to the Afghan
Just over the border is the Taleban headquarters of Kandahar - a
prime target for any US retribution, and many of its inhabitants have
already left their homes, heading for the camps.
Click here to see a map of refugee camps along the border
On the face of it, the camps seem to hold little attraction.
The khaki walls
of their mud and straw homes blend seamlessly into the landscape.
This is an
area that has had little or no rain for the best part of four years, and
dust hangs thick in the air.
There are few facilities and there is little
work to be had. Yet they are safe, and if Pakistan would let them, tens of
thousands would come, seeking refuge.
But the border is closed. At present there is no fighting and the
authorities are doing all they can to prevent Afghans from entering the
Troops have been deployed along the border, in an attempt to keep
For these refugees Pakistan is a safe haven
"Pakistan's primary interest is that the needs of the refugees
should be addressed inside Afghanistan", argues Pakistan's Minister of
Refugees, Abbas Khan.
If America launches an all-out assault on Afghanistan, all sides accept that
this policy will not hold.
The task of preparing for the anticipated flood
of refugees in Quetta falls to William Sakataka - the tall Kenyan
representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
accepts that up to one million Afghans could pour over the border - although
the exact number would be, as he puts it, "anyone's guess".
At the moment the UNHCR could provide immediate help to up to 100,000
refugees in the Quetta area.
But if the flow of Afghans turns into a flood,
their resources would be severely stretched.
An appeal for international aid
would almost certainly have to be launched, just as US forces were going on
If the current crisis escalates into all out war Pakistan
could, once more, be the site of one of the largest refugee populations in
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