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Pakistan To Deport Afghan Refugees

Once again, echoes of cries, screams, and turmoil resound across various regions of Pakistan as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claims responsibility for yet another devastating suicide attack. The regional security landscape in Pakistan has been in upheaval since the fall of Kabul, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty that has placed the nation’s security in a precarious position.

In response to a series of attacks in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan, coupled with looming security threats over the capital, Islamabad, the Pakistani government has taken decisive action in collaboration with security forces. A comprehensive crackdown has been initiated against illegal Afghan residents living in Pakistan, as underscored by an official document released by the government. This document, meticulously discussed with security institutions, intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and media outlets, outlines a significant campaign targeting Afghan refugees, particularly those unlawfully residing within Pakistani territories for an extended period.

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Sarfraz Bhukti, a Pakistani minister, pointed out that 14 out of 24 bombings in Pakistan were attributed to Afghan nationals, including the tragic Peshawar mosque attack. Furthermore, he revealed that 5 out of the six suicide bombers involved in the Qila Saifullah attack in Muslim Bagh were identified as Afghan nationals. Given the alarming frequency of such attacks, including recent ones like the Peshawar mosque incident, Pakistan has found itself compelled to make the difficult decision of extracting Afghan nationals who have been harbored within its borders for an extended period.

This strategic move is seen as a necessary step to safeguard the security and well-being of the Pakistani population, considering the direct involvement of Afghan nationals in a significant number of recent attacks. After years of hosting Afghan refugees, Pakistan finds itself at a critical juncture, compelled to reassess its approach and prioritize the safety of its citizens in the face of evolving regional security challenges.

“We were abruptly instructed to vacate,” laments Mulla Gul Khan, an Afghan refugee in Pakistan. “Our homes were destroyed, and we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty. With skyrocketing rents, some are seeking refuge with relatives. Returning to Afghanistan is challenging due to harsh weather conditions, and the well-being of our children is at stake. We implore authorities to grant us time until the weather improves.”

The recent Pakistani policy of deporting Afghan nationals has created profound distress for millions of families who fled their homes after the fall of Kabul to the Afghan Taliban on August 15, 2021. The seismic shifts in Afghanistan have had widespread repercussions, keenly felt within Pakistan.

There is a prevailing perception that the funds allocated by international organizations to Pakistan have yet to reach Afghan refugees effectively. However, statistical data indicates that in 2022 alone, a substantial funding amount of $175.1 million, drawn from various sources, was received for Afghan refugees, assisting 2.7 million individuals. This translates to an approximate funding availability of $64.85 per person.

An analysis of funding documentation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for Afghan refugees spanning from 2014 to 2021 reveals a total UNHCR budget of $978 million, with actual expenditure totaling $445.7 million during this period. This indicates that less than half of the UNHCR Pakistan budget was utilized between 2014 and 2021. These figures reflect a broader global trend in UNHCR budget allocation and expenditure, underscoring systemic challenges in funding.

Considering this data, it becomes evident that Pakistan needs more funding to adequately address the needs of refugees. The burden is disproportionately borne by local charities and the refugees themselves, who actively seek employment within the local economy to sustain their livelihoods. The precarious situation underscores the urgent need for increased international support and funding to alleviate the plight of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.


A Home Away from Home

For numerous individuals, Pakistan has been more than just a residence; it has been their home. However, many are now compelled to leave despite being born here, establishing marriages, and raising families. The prospect of returning to a land they have never set eyes on presents an unsettling challenge.

“My name is Zargai, and I’ve resided in Pakistan for the past 35 years, though I am originally from Afghanistan. I married a Pakistani and have children aged 28, 27, 24, 21, 18, 16, and 15, all of whom are also married to Pakistanis,” Zargai explained. “Leaving is a concern for them, but enduring further disrespect in jail is not an option. Despite facing economic challenges, we were content here. However, I am determined to return and fight for my rights because I consider Pakistan my home.” Zargai’s situation reflects that of many others in Pakistan who are either leaving or have already departed.

Pakistan has, for an extended period, provided refuge to approximately 1.7 million Afghans, a majority of whom sought sanctuary during the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989. Additionally, over half a million people fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s assumption of power during the concluding weeks of the U.S. and NATO pullout.

The predicament facing these individuals is exacerbated by encountering substantial hurdles to integration. This challenge arises from their need for more proficiency in the local Afghan languages, Pashto and Dari. Many have acquired fluency in English or Urdu while residing in Pakistan, posing an additional obstacle to assimilation into their Afghan homeland.


Geopolitical Repercussions

The recent policy shift is poised to create tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with broader implications that could significantly alter the geopolitical landscape in the region. Pakistan asserts that the majority of Afghans have left voluntarily, a claim flatly rejected by Kabul, which deems the Pakistani action as ‘unilateral’ and ‘humiliating.’

Ambassador Mansoor Ahmad Khan, currently serving as the ambassador to Afghanistan, emphasizes Pakistan’s sovereign right to implement such policies. However, he acknowledges the need to consider the practicalities and potential reactions from the Afghan government and people.

The repercussions of this policy shift are not limited to diplomatic strains; it could also breed animosity among those forcibly expelled from the country. The impact is particularly significant for Afghans, who constitute the majority of foreigners residing in Pakistan. Authorities assert that the crackdown targets all individuals in the country illegally.

The compelled expulsions are anticipated to strain relations between the two nations further, potentially sparking a new “wave of hate” stemming from the perceived injustices of the government’s flawed policy. Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, justifies the deportations by pointing to an increase in violence in Pakistan, framing it as a fundamental aspect of how nation-states operate. He underscores Pakistan’s sovereignty and its inherent right to defend itself, regardless of the potential repercussions. The complex interplay between security concerns, diplomatic relations, and the well-being of affected populations underscores the multifaceted nature of this unfolding situation.


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