The government of Pakistan has officially started a crackdown against undocumented Afghans residing in the country. Hundreds of refugees have been arrested and detained on the grounds that they do not have adequate paperwork and are involved in crimes and other activities.
The government, citing a rising number of crime activities, has ordered all the undocumented Afghan migrants and refugees to leave Pakistan by the beginning of next month, either voluntarily or by force.
The announcement immediately drew criticism from national and international observers. The humanitarian organizations are urging the Government of Pakistan to continue its historic support for Afghan refugees by enabling them to live with dignity and free from the fear of deportation to Afghanistan, where they face persecution by the Taliban.
Since Pakistan has paid a high price for its generosity in terms of rising crime activities and suicidal attacks, the decision cannot be reversed.
The 2021’s Chapter
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, thousands of Afghans have fled to surrounding countries. More than 600,000 are estimated to have entered Pakistan, bringing the country’s total population of Afghan refugees (both registered and unregistered) to 3.7 million. Out of which, 1.4 million are unregistered.
In recent months, amidst worsening relations between the neighboring countries, Pakistan’s authorities have stepped up a year-long crackdown against undocumented Afghans. On October 2, Pakistan’s caretaker Interior Minister stated that all undocumented Afghans must leave the country by November 1. Those who fail to do so will face deportation. Pakistan has already announced that, if they fail to do so, all the law enforcement agencies will be utilized to deport them.
Alarming Security Concerns
Pakistan has seen a dramatic surge in violence this year, with the majority of attacks occurring in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern province of Balochistan, both of which border Afghanistan. Allowing Afghan refugees to settle in Pakistan was a grave mistake.
According to the reports, Afghan nationals were found involved in 75% of suicide attacks that took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the recent wave of terrorism. The fingerprints of the suicide bombers revealed that they were Afghan citizens.
In another news report, the Saudi authorities disclosed that they have successfully retrieved over 12,000 Pakistani passports from Afghan nationals. This revelation has raised concerns about the performance of national institutions and security concerns as well. It’s worth noting that Pakistan has been a host to millions of refugees for decades, with a peak of up to five million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan at one point. However, official records indicate a considerably lower count of individuals possessing valid refugee cards.
There is evidence of Afghan migrants involvement in the smuggling of US dollars. They are believed to be smuggling US dollars to the tune of $5 million per day. This contributed to Pakistan’s imminent default earlier this year. The last-minute deal with the IMF later averted the default. By cracking down on the businesses of Afghans and deporting those staying illegally in the country, Pakistan hopes to address leakages of foreign exchange to prevent further deterioration of its economy.
A recent report has also exposed the extensive use of Afghan mobile phone SIM cards in acts of terrorism and criminal activities within Pakistan. The report sheds light on the disturbing ways in which these SIMs are being exploited. The report highlights that unregistered Afghan SIM cards are alarmingly accessible in the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. These SIMs have become a preferred tool for terrorists operating in the region, enabling them to communicate and coordinate their activities discreetly.
Popular communication apps like WhatsApp and others are used on these Afghan SIMs, allowing terrorists to maintain anonymity while planning and executing their nefarious acts. Many Afghans have been found to have fraudulently acquired Pakistani identity cards, often with the complicity of corrupt NADRA officials.
Beyond terrorism, these Afghan SIMs have been implicated in a range of serious crimes, including murder and kidnapping for ransom.
Reaction on the Decision: What to expect
The interim Afghan government, led by the Taliban, gave a stinging rebuke to Pakistan’s announcement, calling it “unacceptable”. The spokesperson for the Afghan interim government, Zabihullah Mujahid, urged the Pakistani government to “reconsider the decision“. Zabi Ullah used Twitter to express that Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems and that Pakistan should tolerate them.
Pakistan sent a high-level delegation to Kabul for negotiations, the second such visit this year, and urged the Afghan Taliban to improve border controls. The two countries share a 2,640 km-long (1,640-mile-long) border. It passes through rugged mountains, densely forested valleys, and narrow rock passages. Its topography makes it porous and difficult to control.
Forceful expulsion or deportation of illegal immigrants?
The government has not disclosed any plans about how it intends to deport undocumented people. The task of identifying them has been given to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, and regional police and the Federal Investigation Agency are to carry out the deportations.
Authorities have said a task force will be created to initiate the crackdown after the November 1 deadline, and those Afghans who do not have documentation will be handed over to Afghan officials unless they are wanted by authorities for suspected criminal activities.
Reaction From Afghan Interim government
A spokesperson for the governor of the Afghan province of Kandahar, which borders Pakistan, said that they are planning to set up a commission to welcome Afghans returning from the neighboring country.
The spokesperson for the Afghan interim government said they seek no “revenge” on opponents and that everyone will be “forgiven”. The spokesperson assured that nobody would go to their doors to ask why they helped.”Heencouraged people who had fled to the airport with their families to return.
Refugee statistics in Pakistan
According to estimates, more than 95% of refugees in Pakistan, both documented and undocumented, are Afghan nationals. The first influx of refugees began after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which resulted in more than three million Afghans fleeing to Pakistan. Over the years, many of them returned home.
This wave was followed by a second in 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. The UNHCR says 1.3 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, 50% of whom are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and 24 percent in Balochistan.
A report released in July by Refugees International, an independent humanitarian group that advocates for displaced people, said that since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 2021, more than 600,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan.