AFGHAN refugees arrive on trucks to cross the Chaman border, on Wednesday.—AFP
AFGHAN refugees arrive on trucks to cross the Chaman border, on Wednesday.—AFP

• Caretaker PM says Islamabad will not back down on deportation of illegal Afghans, tells Kabul to move against anti-Pakistan groups
• Says 60pc rise in terror incidents in two years, TTP havens in neighbouring country to blame
• Terms Afghan leaders’ remarks on deportation ‘irresponsible’, ‘threatening’

ISLAMABAD: As mass expulsion of Afghan nationals purportedly living without proper documentation picks up steam, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq on Wednesday pinned the recent surge in terrorist attacks on the Taliban government in Afghanistan while also calling it a reaction to the deportation drive.

Addressing a press conference at the Prime Minister’s House before his departure to Tashkent, the caretaker premier said there was a 60 per cent increase in terrorism and a 500 per cent spike in suicide bombings since the Afghan Taliban came to power in August 2021.

‘Over 2,800 lives lost’

“Pakistan in last two years has lost lives of 2,867 innocent civilians, for which TTP (the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) that is operating from Afghanistan, is responsible,” the caretaker PM said. “During this time, 15 Afghan citizens were also among the people involved in suicide attacks. Other than this, till now, 64 Afghan citizens were killed while fighting Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies during the counterterrorism campaign,” he said.

PM Kakar went on to recall that such details were in the knowledge of the Afghan government as Pakistan had been informing it of them through visits and demarches.

The caretaker premier said, “After the establishment of the interim Afghan government in August 2021, we had a strong hope that there would be long-term peace in Afghanistan. […] Strict action would be taken against Pakistan-opposing groups, especially the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and they would not be allowed to use Afghan soil against Pakistan.”

The premier said that according to a monitoring report released in July this year by the United Nations, there was “clear mention of TTP centres in Afghanistan and increase in its activities against Pakistan”.

He said despite reassurances from the Afghan government of taking action against TTP, “no actions were taken against the anti-Pakistan groups”.

“Instead, in a few instances, clear evidence of enabling terrorism also came forward,” he added.

PM Kakar asked Kabul to hand over Pakistani nationals residing in Afghanistan who were involved in terrorism in Pakistan.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021 after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of trillions of dollars, melted away.

It may be mentioned that then-prime minister Imran Khan had compared the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban to ‘breaking the chains of slavery’ while ex-spymaster retired Lt Gen Faiz Hameed visited the Afghanistan capital right after their victory. “Don’t worry, everything will be okay,” the ISI chief had told the reporter with a smile.

Answering a question about whether the surge in terrorism was a reaction to the drive against ‘illegal immigrants’, the PM said, “We have serious concerns regarding this but sometimes intelligence assessments are for public consumption and sometimes not. But we are vigilant and reviewing all aspects and committed not to reverse the policy.”

His statement comes after the country witnessed a sharp rise in terror incidents during the past week wherein almost two dozen troops were martyred in ambushes and intelligence-based operations.

Deportation drive

PM Kakar stated that the ongoing countrywide deportation drive was a step taken by Pakistan “to correct its interior matters itself”.

“Pakistan has full legal and ethical right to send back foreigners residing in the country illegally,” he added.

The prime minister stated that there were 1.4 million Afghan refugees currently residing in the country who were registered via the ‘Proof of Residence’ card while the government registered another 0.8m under the Afghan citizen card, adding that they would not be deported. There are reports that those with valid proof identity were also being deported by the authorities.

PM Kakar termed the statements made by Afghan leaders criticising the deportation drive as “unnecessary, irresponsible, misleading and threatening”, adding that they were “upsetting”.

Responding to questions, PM Kakar said around 252,000 illegal immigrants have returned to their country, terming it a “sign that the policy would be implemented successfully. The premier hoped that the relations between the two countries would improve following this drive as the leaders would know “what expectations should be kept”.

Leftover US weapons

Responding to a question about leftover ammunition of US forces who had left Afghanistan, the PM said there was no clue about the ammunition that was in the possession of the Afghan military comprising 150,000 personnel, and which just “disappeared” after the US withdrawal.

On Tuesday, when the US State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, was asked to comment on the US counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan and the reports of American weapons allegedly used in the Mianwali air base attack, he said: “We are aware of the reports of multiple attacks on Pakistani security forces and facilities earlier in November and we offer our condolences to the families of the victims, but I want to be very clear about this: There was no equipment left behind by American forces during the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

On the status of Afghans who fled to Pakistan after the Taliban took over and awaited relocation to the US and Western countries under the US Special Visa Immigration (SIV) scheme, PM Kakar said Pakistan was in touch with the countries of their destination and had the necessary database about them. “They are on temporary… We have no objections, but we want the countries of their destination to ensure a timeline for their relocation,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2023

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