This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
By Khushal Khan
The federal caretaker government has announced November 1 as the deadline for “illegal immigrants” to leave Pakistan or force deportation.
The announcement was made after an Apex Committee meeting that was reportedly attended by federal caretaker ministers, provincial caretaker chief ministers, the army chief, and heads of civil and military agencies. The announcement comes at a time when the state has already initiated large-scale crackdowns against Afghan refugees in different parts of the country with hundreds detained in Karachi and Islamabad in recent weeks.
This is not the first time Afghan refugees have been forced to bear the brunt of Pakistan’s deeply flawed Afghan policy.
As a matter of fact, Afghan refugees are targeted and harassed after every wave of terrorist attacks has taken place. After the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, thousands of Afghans crossed over into Pakistan, panicking and fearing for their lives especially because of the uncertainty that had taken over their country.
At this time, there was no legitimate government in place in Afghanistan. The Taliban remain a militant group of several factions who continue to occupy Afghanistan illegally. Their takeover has not yet been recognized by any other country in the world. This adds to the vulnerability of Afghan refugees because they do not have a state of their own to protect them. They cannot avail any diplomatic assistance from their Embassy in Pakistan because the Embassy is under the Taliban’s control.
In addition to this, Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol and there are no laws for refugees and asylum seekers which leaves Afghans more vulnerable to being harassed and detained under the Foreigners Act that grants authorities the cover they need to mistreat and forcefully deport refugees.
Pakistan has remained heavily involved in the Afghan conflict for decades. Pakistan has actively sided with and supported the Taliban and their takeover of Afghanistan.
As such, Pakistan bears responsibility for the plight of Afghan refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and flee their country. In the previous tenure of the National Assembly, Mohsin Dawar who was the elected MNA from North Waziristan and who heads the National Democratic Movement, introduced a bill for the protection of refugees. It was the first time a bill of this kind was introduced in the Parliament. The bill was ignored and was never discussed in the Parliament. It is very unfortunate that despite hosting millions of Afghans for decades, Pakistan refuses to legislate for refugees.
Afghans have been living in Pakistan for decades and have contributed to Pakistan’s economy and have also integrated into the societies in the regions that they are based in. Blaming them for terrorism in Pakistan is very problematic.
Pakistan’s deeply flawed Afghan policy, referred to as the Strategic Depth policy, is one of the major reasons for the terrorism that has engulfed our region.
Supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan meant providing the different groups that operate under their umbrella the space they needed. This includes the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). At the same time, those involved in the plan to “resettle” TTP fighters in the newly merged districts of erstwhile FATA in Pakhtunkhwa during the PTI’s tenure remain are yet to be held accountable. They remain free.
But it is the Afghan refugees who are being used as scapegoats once again for political and strategic measures that will result in further violations of their rights. Forcing Afghans back at a time when Afghanistan is undergoing one of the worst humanitarian crises in its recent history is absolutely cruel.
It is important for the state to stop its crackdowns against Afghan refugees immediately and to revisit its decision to forcefully deport Afghans. It is equally important for Pakistan to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol and to enact laws for the protection of refugees. Afghans deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and their fundamental rights need to be protected.