Deportations of Afghans by Pakistan The Excelsior 28 Nov 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Deportations of Afghans by Pakistan

Deportations of Afghans by Pakistan The Excelsior 28 Nov 2023

          On 03 Oct this year, the caretaker government of Pakistan, headed by Anwaar Kakar, considered close to the army, ordered all ‘illegal’ Afghan refugees (claimed to be approximately 1.7 million) to leave the country within 30 days. The decision was criticized by the UN and global rights organizations on the premise that forced eviction could cause a potential humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as also there could be retribution and abuse on those returning.

Only the US raised its voice mildly, when its spokesperson stated ‘We join all of our partners in urging all countries, including Pakistan, to uphold their respective obligations in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.’ Over 400,000 Afghans, many of whom were born in Pakistan, have crossed back into Afghanistan. The justification by Pakistan is that Afghan refugees are responsible for the surge in TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) attacks on its soil. This is far from the truth.

Had Pakistan decided to act, the TTP could have been eradicated in 2007 itself, but nothing was done. Now blaming refugees, most of whom have no link with the TTP, is exploiting innocents, solely because the Taliban led Afghan government refuses to adhere to demands of Pak on arresting members of anti-Pak terrorist groups.

When the same Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in 2021, there were celebrations across Pakistan. The photograph of the then ISI chief, General Faiz Hameed, sipping tea in a Kabul hotel lobby claiming all will be well, continues to haunt Pakistan. So do the words of Imran Khan who stated that Afghans have broken the ‘shackles of slavery.’

          Kabul responded in anger on Pakistan’s decision. The Taliban’s acting defence minister, Maulvi Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, called out Pakistan by stating, ‘International refugee advocates and organizations stand firm for the rights of refugees,’ adding that Pakistan’s behaviour was ‘cruel and barbaric.’ The Afghan government spokesperson, Bilal Karimi, mentioned, ‘In the long term, there may be many negative effects on the relations and communications between the two countries.’ Relations have already nosedived between the two countries.

          To make it worse, Pakistan placed restrictions on what departing Afghans could carry. They were prohibited from moving their livestock or more than Rs 50,000 in cash. This resulted in them leaving the country in abject poverty, many being robbed of whatever little they possessed by Pak security forces at crossing points, further angering the Afghan government.  

Pak further claimed that the situation in Afghanistan had stabilized and hence it was time for ‘voluntary repatriation of refugees.’ Its spokesperson mentioned, ‘Pakistan believes that it is our sovereign right to implement our immigration laws under which individuals who are staying here illegally can be deported, as is the case in any country in the world.’  

          To prevent a global backlash, Anwaar Kakar stated that those awaiting resettlement in the US and UK will not be repatriated. Giving true reasons on his government’s decision on repatriation, Kakar added that since the Taliban takeover there has been ‘a 60% increase in terrorist attacks and a 500% rise in suicide attacks in Pakistan,’ implying that Pak-Afghans were supporting terrorism.

Pakistan claims that since the Taliban assumed control, it has had over 2800 casualties to terrorism. Anwaar’s statement is evidently intended to enhance pressure on the Taliban to adhere to Pakistan’s demand.  

The Taliban rejected Pakistan’s accusations on supporting terrorism by claiming it to be an internal problem of Pakistan. They are aggravated at Pakistan refusing to negotiate with the TTP. Kabul has repeatedly stated that if the TTP was on Afghan soil, it would attack Pak outposts. Attacking deep within Pak implies they are located within the country.

The reality is that Pakistan accepted refugees as long as global agencies paid for their care, in cash and food stocks, implying Pak exploited their stay. With global attention shifting to Ukraine and Gaza, Pak is no longer earning at the same level from keeping Afghan refugees on its soil. It has thus taken the decision to repatriate them.

The refugees being pushed back are likely to face starvation as there is neither employment nor accommodation nor food stocks for them within Afghanistan. With winter around the corner their survivability is at risk. Such struggling people are ripe to be recruited by the collection of terrorist groups operating along the Durand line. This will enhance security issues for Pakistan.   

            The deportation, riddled with theft of Afghans being forced to cross over, has angered Pashtuns on both sides of Durand line. Different factions within Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban are uniting against Pakistan’s illegal actions. The TTP and the Taliban possess the same ideology and Pakistan’s actions will result in the TTP being provided with even more support.

          As it is most Afghans dislike Pak for its support to the Taliban in its battle against the US as also blackmailing the country by blocking movement of aid to it, especially wheat flows from India. Pakistan’s recent announcement to enhance additional levies on Afghan exports/imports has added to anger in Kabul. While Pak faces Afghan wrath, India gains in standing as it remains a nation willing to aid Afghanistan. 

The Pak army is already facing rising insurgency in both, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It has deployed additional troops to control the situation, yet suffers losses daily. Simultaneously, tensions with India remain on its western borders. In case, Indo-Pak hostilities do take place, the situation is very likely to be exploited by the TTP backed by the Taliban.   

          In recent years, no Arab state has expressed willingness to accept refugees from other Muslim nations, including those in the throes of civil wars such as Yemen, Syria and Libya. Gaza is an example where its neighbours, Egypt and Jordan have blocked inflow of Gazan even on a temporary basis. It is only the west which accepts refugees on humanitarian grounds from Muslim nations in Africa and Asia.

          India faced global criticism just on its decision to create a national register of citizens to identify illegal immigrants, while the world is silent on Pakistan pushing hapless Afghan refugees back. If Europe were to return refugees as Pakistan is doing, there would be a backlash. It is time the world stops its hypocrisy.