Targeting Afghans

Published October 5, 2023

THE government has given all illegal immigrants in the country till the end of the month to return to their homelands or risk deportation.

This includes 1.73m Afghans, who, according to Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti, are undocumented. E-tazkiras — Afghan identity cards — will no longer be deemed valid after Oct 31, leaving only passports and visas as the acceptable form of identification.

Mr Bugti said it is to ensure the “welfare and security” of Pakistanis. While security is paramount, one cannot help but question the real motive behind these plans.

The interior minister pointedly said that of the 24 suicide attacks that took place in Pakistan since January, “14 bombings were carried out by Afghan nationals”. This was a troubling statement to have made on TV and nothing short of ethnic profiling.

Even more disturbing was his announcement of a web portal and a national helpline where anyone can report “illegal immigrants” in exchange for a reward.

These decisions — seemingly targeting the Afghans — in addition to others taken in recent weeks suggest there may be more to it than meets the eye.

It bears mentioning that September saw an alarming rise in the rounding up of Afghans in the backdrop of renewed tensions between Islamabad and Kabul, which followed a TTP attack in Chitral.

The Afghan embassy said more than 1,000 Afghans were detained in the past two weeks — half of them despite having a legal right to be in Pakistan.

Why was such treatment meted out to those who have sought refuge on our soil for four decades? And with what conscience, when we are so quick to urge the West not to close their doors on war-ravaged Syrians, Iranians, and the like? Was it to pressure the Taliban rulers in Kabul to ‘do more’ with the TTP?

While Pakistan cannot allow such a large number of undocumented foreigners and must enact measures to properly register them, the West, which packed its bags and left Afghanistan in the lurch, must also bear responsibility for the ongoing fallout.

It must provide Pakistan assistance in this endeavour, monetarily as well as in terms of technical expertise. It must also help those migrants who came here with the hope of moving to the US or other Western countries under refugee resettlement programmes.

The migrants allege delays in the processing of their resettlement applications, lack of help from UNHCR and trouble securing an extension of their Pakistani visas. The UNHCR has belatedly offered to help Pakistan manage and register people in need of international protection.

The Afghans cannot be wished away. They are a part of the region’s sociopolitical fabric, and a compassionate, sustainable solution must be sought for their plight. Abandoning them in haste will only sow seeds of future discord.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2023

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