The Afghani Burger

Since last year Pakistan has requested that an estimated two million Afghan refugees (no one really knows the true figure) in Pakistan should leave and return back “home”. This has caused enormous amount of chaos along the Pakistan-Afghan border, not to mention the huge amount of distress and uncertainty for the people themselves. In these times when Europe is mostly focused on the refugees crisis in its own borders, there is a tendency to overlook the fact the majority of the world’s refugees are in fact located largely in neighbouring countries from which they flee. According to the UNHCR figures the top five hosting countries are:

Turkey 2.5m

Pakistan 1.6m

Lebanon 1.1m

Iran 979,400

Ethiopia 736,100

Visit the UNCHR website for a quick overview of figures, they are quite illuminating:

The Afghani refugees initially arrived in Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. They poured into Pakistan to seek sanctuary and most of them made new, but admittedly temporary, lives along the two provinces bordering Afghanistan. In the late 80s this figure was approximately 3.3 million, all located in refugee camps along Afghan-Pakistan border. A second wave of refugees poured into Pakistan following the US-led war in Afghanistan after 2001. By the end of 2001 the numbers rose up to approximately 5 million. By the end of 2012 there were however, almost 2 million Afghan nationals living in Pakistan largely in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan province but others were scattered across the country. Some of these people have been there for such a long time that this is the only home they have known. While they have legal refugee status in Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan still considers them citizens of Afghanistan, even though many have subsequently been born in Pakistan. Large numbers of refugees have already been repatriated back to Afghanistan with the assistance of the UNHCR; their future is yet again uncertain.

Despite this many of them have made their lives in the “foreign” land that has become “home”. They carve out a living whichever way they can and the Afghani burger place is a just a small way in which they hang onto their identity. I first came across this when a colleague insisted that when one is in Islamabad an Afghani Burger is a must. Intrigued to find out more we visited a shabby looking place, the modern day dhaba. The place is quite small, unassuming and ordinarily I would have walked past it. The burger itself is not a burger; it is more of a wrap to be precise. The food is made on site and in front of your eyes to entice you. The contents of the wrap include a mix of different influences, chips (limp and apparently Afghani style), frankfurters (made with chicken or beef), salads, and an assortment of different sauces/chutneys – eastern influenced mint ones, the ubiquitous tomato sauce (with added spices) and some eastern spices thrown in too.

Read more about the Afghani burger phenomenon in Dawn:

Motivating the Afghanis in Pakistan is essentially the instinctive need for survival and whilst the State (and Pakistani citizens) does not consider them citizens, it does not stop the success and popularity of the Afghani burger from spreading. Food is of course the easiest and most sublime ways in which people both retain their identity and also share it with those around; it starts to infuse the landscape until it is absorbed into the existing culture. The result is that the Afghani burger has given life and thrived in a stale, bureaucratic city to give it some character. The politics remain but no one questions the joy that food can bring to the people and places far away from “home”.


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