Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi on Friday said former prime minister Imran Khan’s statement about the expulsion of Afghan refugees was aimed at “garnering the sympathy” of the interim Afghan government.
In November, the caretaker government had initiated a nationwide campaign to deport illegal foreign nationals, the majority of whom are Afghans. While the decision had prompted criticism from Afghanistan and several other quarters, the government has refused to budge, insisting the move is not aimed at any particular ethnic group.
Of the more than four million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7m are undocumented. So far, thousands of Afghans have returned home from the Torkham and Chaman border crossings.
On Thursday, a statement from Imran — who is currently incarcerated in Adiala Jail — was issued on social media platform X on the issue, criticising the treatment allegedly being meted out to Afghan refugees.
Imran said that treating refugees with respect was a “national obligation” while also talking about the traditional and historical links between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said Pakistan had accommodated Afghan refugees for close to four decades and the effects of decades of hospitality were being wasted due to a “deficient plan”.
The PTI chief said 1.5m refugees were not that much of a burden on a population of 250m.
Responding to a question about the former premier’s statement during a press conference in Quetta, Solangi said: “It seems to me, that an attempt is being made to create an environment to garner the sympathy of Afghanistan’s government […] and indirectly, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members sent by them and create such an atmosphere in the next elections that his party gains an advantage in a way over other political parties.”
The information minister said if this was so, then it would be most “unfortunate because the need is that all parties have equal security and opportunity in the elections”.
Solangi said it was necessary to ask the PTI chief and his aides under which agreement or without asking the Parliament, “thousands of TTP terrorists” were allowed to resettle in Pakistan before the end of the PTI government’s term.
The information minister also questioned the legitimacy of Imran’s post, saying that the facility to post on social media about anything was not being provided to the PTI chief. He asked whether the statement had indeed been posted by him.
“If this really is his opinion, I wish that he had also spoken about the difficulties of 250m Pakistanis instead of trying to represent the illegal Afghans in Pakistan,” he said.
Solangi said the accusation in Imran’s post regarding the forced expulsion of Afghan refugees was “baseless”, saying that the majority of the 500,000 that left were not “shoved out” and had left willingly while only a few thousand were forcefully expelled.
He added that there may have been one or two instances of injustice in the exercise but the provincial and federal governments would take notice and investigate them.
Solangi said the government would be mindful and ensure that humanitarian norms were considered during the deportation exercise.