Slaughter in Gaza eclipses mass deportation of Afghans from Pakistan
As a collective punishment for the terrorist acts of a few, 250,000 Afghans have been forced to leave Pakistan in a matter of days.
Colombo, November 10: The burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Gaza is deservedly occupying the attention of the international media and various governments. But a massive tragedy unfolding not too far away in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is being ignored not just by the media but governments across the globe, including those in the neighbourhood.
In response to suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism by the Pakistani Taliban and other groups, allegedly based in, or getting support from, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Caretaker government of Pakistan announced at the beginning of October that all unregistered or undocumented foreigners, principally refugees from war-torn Afghanistan, should leave the country by November 1.
There were 1.7 million Afghans in Pakistan, out of which 1.4 million were documented. The documented ones are not in danger of being deported but at least three lakhs are.
In Pakistan Since 1979
The Afghans had been fleeing Afghanistan and taking refuge in Pakistan since 1979 when the Soviets invaded the country and established a communist government. The deeply Islamic Afghans revolted against this change and fought the Soviets with US help. This war also led to mass migration to Pakistan.
There was another outflow when the extremely Islamic Taliban took over from the Soviets, leading to US intervention. Taliban’s war against the US-supported Afghan government led to another wave of migration. A total of 1.7 million Afghans migrated to Pakistan since 1979.
Being thrifty businessmen and hard-working too the Afghan refugees were able to make ends meet and even dominate some sectors like the transport sector in Karachi. There was no incentive whatsoever to go back.
However, ushering in of strict Islamic rule of the Taliban in 2021, created tension in Pakistan where Islamic radical groups, including terrorist outfits like the Pakistani Taliban, started a violent movement to further Islamize the already “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan.
These groups took to bombing Islamic sects which according to them were not truly Islamic. They also started attacking the Pakistani military, touching a particularly raw nerve in the Pakistani Establishment. Retaliation followed, which threw the country, already weakened by a politico-economic crisis, into unprecedented violence and chaos.
The Pakistani government accused the Taliban government in Kabul of sponsoring the Pakistani Taliban and kindred groups. But the regime in Kabul rejected the charge outright and asked Islamabad to set its house in order instead of blaming outsiders.
Addressing a press conference on November 9, Pakistan’s Caretaker Premier Anwaar ul Haq Kakar said there was a 60% increase in terrorism and a 500% spike in suicide bombings in Pakistan since the Afghan Taliban came to power in August 2021.
“Pakistan in the last two years has lost the lives of 2,867 innocent civilians, for which the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, that is operating from Afghanistan, is responsible. During this time, 15 Afghan citizens were among those involved in suicide attacks. Other than this, till now, 64 Afghan citizens were killed while fighting Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies,” Kakar said.
The Premier said that according to a report released in July this year by the United Nations, there was a “clear mention of TTP centres in Afghanistan.”
“The Afghan government took no action against the anti-Pakistan groups. Instead, in a few instances, clear evidence of enabling terrorism also came forward.”
It was out of desperation and a complete inability to tackle the terrorists that the Caretaker government of Pakistan decided in October to expel all the undocumented Afghans by November 1.
Pakistan’s acting Interior Minister, Sarfraz Bugti, warned Pakistani citizens against sheltering undocumented foreigners, with prosecution as the consequence.
250,000 Leave Voluntarily
It is reported that about 250,000 Afghans have quit voluntarily since October. Thousands have been trying to go to the US instead of Afghanistan.
The November 1 deadline expired, but the Pakistani authorities remained steadfast in their determination to proceed with these expulsions, even by force if necessary.
The impact of this decision is felt keenly at border crossing points. More than 16,000 pass through a crossing point in a single day, a stark contrast to the 300 people per day handled before the expulsion announcement, an international news agency said.
According to media reports, some refugees had valid Pakistani residency cards, but their undocumented family members faced eviction and so entire families had to leave. There are reports of Afghans being rounded up in various Pakistani cities.
According to the Afghan media, there have been cases of Pakistani officers allegedly tearing up valid residency cards.
An international agency quoted Arafat Muhajir, an official from the Afghan Ministry of Transportation, as saying that the Afghan government provides small amounts of financial assistance to returnees to help them travel to other cities, with each family receiving up to 4,000 Afghanis ($53).
For those returnees who claim to have valid documents and should not have been expelled, a local NGO interviews them and reports their cases to the UN.
The living conditions for the returnees are extremely rudimentary. Many sleep in the trucks they had travelled in. The Red Crescent provides medical assistance.
Afghan soldiers search for children who are alone in the crowds, in an attempt to reunite them with their families. The Taliban authorities have registration points, where officials collect information and biometrics from returnees.
Reports said that mosques in the vicinity of the border town of Torkham delivered sermons, are calling for assistance to migrants
As the crisis unfolded, the Acting Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Mohammad Hassan Akhundzada, expressed dismay at the treatment of the deportees, emphasizing the need for humane policies.
Afghan officials expect the international community to help them. But this is not forthcoming because the Taliban regime does not enjoy diplomatic recognition having failed to, or refused to, set up a democratic system with an ethnically inclusive government and recognition of female rights.
After the Americans vacated Afghanistan, and the establishment of the powerful regime of the Taliban, Afghanistan has also lost its geopolitical importance. Afghanistan has enormous resources which should be attractive to world powers, but in the absence of favourable conditions for foreign investment and foreign political involvement, there is no will to get involved. There is no hope that conditions will change in the foreseeable future.
Thus, the Afghan refugees and those still in Pakistan have been left to stew in their own juice.
Meanwhile, there were faint signs of Pakistan mellowing. Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Kakar said in a televised news conference on Wednesday that authorities would deport only migrants who are in the country illegally. He pointed out that 1.4 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan with “full respect and safety.”
As for the others, he said, “they cannot live in Pakistan for an indefinite period.”
Kakar said more than 250,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan since the crackdown was announced. He also said that 25,000 Afghans, who had worked for the American military or government, international organizations and aid agencies, as well as media and human rights groups and who had fled after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, will be relocated in the US.
Pakistani authorities said they have received a list with their names from US officials. US Embassy spokesman in Islamabad Jonathan Lalley said Washington has been in constant communication with the Pakistani government on the safety of these individuals.