The authorities in Islamabad have issued a deadline for undocumented Afghans to leave the country or face deportation. Pakistan’s caretaker government made the announcement on Tuesday, stating that all individuals without legal documentation must depart by the end of the month. Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti emphasized the urgency of the situation, saying that if undocumented Afghans do not comply with the deadline, law enforcement agencies will be employed to deport them.
Bugti revealed that there are currently 1.73 million Afghan nationals residing in Pakistan without a legal permit. This population is seen as a security risk, particularly in light of recent terrorist bombings attributed to the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Bugti stated that there is evidence of Afghan nationals being involved in attacks against Pakistan, further justifying the need for their deportation.
The announcement comes after a recent surge in violence in Pakistan, with Afghan nationals being implicated in 14 out of 24 suicide bombings this year. Two attacks at Pakistani mosques last week resulted in the death of at least 57 people. Bugti identified one of the bombers as an Afghan national, although the TTP has denied responsibility for the blasts.
In response to the security concerns, Pakistani authorities have detained over 1,000 Afghans in the past two weeks. The Afghan embassy in Islamabad confirmed these detentions and expressed concern over the situation. It is estimated that there are approximately 4.4 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, including 600,000 who arrived after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.
In addition to the deportation deadline, Pakistan will also implement stricter entry requirements for Afghans. Starting from November 1, valid passports and visas will be required for entry, replacing the previous policy of accepting national ID cards. This change aims to ensure better regulation of Afghan nationals entering the country.
While Bugti’s announcement primarily targets illegal residents, it has been suggested that this is just the first phase of a larger plan. An anonymous government official stated that phase two would involve the expulsion of all individuals with Afghan citizenship, followed by phase three, which would apply even to those with valid residence permits.
Pakistan has a history of accepting Afghan refugees, starting with the Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The country continued to welcome refugees during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s and the subsequent US-led occupation of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021.
This latest move by Pakistan reflects its concern over the potential security risks associated with a large undocumented Afghan population. As the situation continues to evolve, it remains to be seen how the Afghan government and the international community will respond to the potential displacement of millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.