Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday said Pakistan’s decision to expel undocumented Afghan nationals was “unacceptable” and urged authorities to revisit the policy.
The statement comes a day after the caretaker government gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants, including Afghan nationals, to leave Pakistan by October 31, or risk imprisonment and deportation to their respective countries.
The decision was taken in an apex committee meeting headed by Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and attended by the army chief, among others. The committee also decided that movement across the border would be subject to passports and visas, while electronic Afghan identity cards (or e-tazkiras) would only be accepted until Oct 31.
After the passage of the deadline, the authorities would kickstart an operation targeting illegal properties and businesses owned by immigrants or those being run in collaboration with Pakistani nationals.
In a statement posted on social media platform X (erstwhile Twitter) in both Urdu and English today, Mujahid said the treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan was unacceptable and authorities should revise their policy in this regard.
“Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems,” he stated, adding that as long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, “that country should tolerate them”.
The Pakistani Foreign Office has yet to issue a statement on this matter.
Around 1.3 million Afghans are registered refugees in Pakistan and 880,000 more have legal status to remain, according to the latest United Nations figures. However, the government claims that a further 1.7 million Afghans are in Pakistan illegally.
In addition to the Afghan spokesperson’s criticism, the policy announcement has triggered concerns from several quarters.
In a post on X today, former PPP senator Farhatullah Babar said the government was “once again playing football with refugees” and “manipulating for some other objectives”.
“Doomed to end in a backlash. Tripartite agreement allows only voluntary repatriation,” he added.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said the decision to evict foreign nations, which it said was allegedly because they had links to terrorist and criminal groups, reflected “not only an absence of compassion but also a myopic and narrow view of national security”.
“The large majority of such people are vulnerable Afghan refugees and stateless persons for whom Pakistan has been home for several generations,” it said, adding that it was “unfair” to hold all accountable for the mistakes of a few.
The HRCP further stated that the decision contravened international human rights law and demanded it be reversed immediately.
A day earlier, the Afghanistan Embassy in Islamabad accused Punjab and Sindh police of conducting a “ruthless” operation against Afghan refugees, without distinguishing between genders and even arresting women and children.
In a statement posted on X on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s embassy said more than 1,000 Afghans have been detained in the past two weeks — half of them despite having a legal right to be in Pakistan.
Moreover, Amnesty International also called out the Pakistani government for creating a space of ‘fear’ for refugees.
A United Nations official also opposed the deadline. “Any refugee return must be voluntary and without any pressure to ensure protection for those seeking safety,” Qaisar Khan Afridi, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Anadolu Agency.
He said that the UNHCR was prepared to assist Pakistan in establishing a system for overseeing and recording individuals seeking international protection within its borders and addressing “specific vulnerabilities”.
The discourse comes amid the state’s crackdown on Afghan refugees.
September has seen an alarming rise in the rounding up and detention of Afghan refugees. The government cites illegal immigration and rising crime as the reasons behind the crackdown.
Police and politicians have said a recent round-up targets only those without legal status and is in response to rising crime and poor regulation of immigration that is straining resources. Meanwhile, Afghans say the arrests have been indiscriminate.
Additional reporting by Tahir Khan