Following the Afghan war against the Soviet occupation, there has been a continuous influx of refugees to Pakistan from the 1980s to the present day. During the years of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan hosted millions of refugees fleeing destruction. Nowadays, with the arbitrariness accompanying the process of forming a new policy in Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of Afghan migrants have begun to be deported from the country.
Of the more than 3 million Afghan citizens estimated to be living in Pakistan, about 1.7 million are undocumented. Many of them have been living in Pakistan, which they consider their homeland, for the last 40 years.
This critical decision affecting Pakistan’s internal and external security was taken by a temporary government that constitutionally does not have the authority to make long-term policy decisions. In the past, Pakistan attempted to repatriate undocumented Afghan refugees but never undertook an initiative on this scale. The authority to make such sensitive policy decisions should have been left to the future elected government and parliament.
As a result of Pakistan’s decisions, about 250,000 Afghans have already been forced to leave the country, and many more are being held in camps near the Afghan border pending deportation. After the expiration of the time allowed for undocumented Afghan citizens to voluntarily leave the country, there were distressing scenes of Afghans being forcibly gathered by Pakistani security forces.
In the 1980s, Pakistan followed a policy of supporting the American-backed mujahideen war and then assisting the Taliban fighting against American forces. Being on the front lines in the two Afghan wars over the last 40 years made Pakistan the only refuge for Afghans affected by the war.
After the end of the 20-year US-led war in Afghanistan, there was an even greater influx of refugees. Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in 2021, more than half a million Afghans crossed into Pakistan. Most of these were economic migrants, but there were also those who fled to escape the persecution of the conservative regime, including women and human rights activists.
However, this policy decision by Pakistan has led to a very serious humanitarian crisis. Approximately 1.7 million people being forcibly returned to a country experiencing worsening living conditions due to floods and earthquake disasters and lacking food will endanger their lives. Two-thirds of Afghans need assistance, half of them urgently. There is a shortage of medicine and water.
The Taliban regime’s ban on women’s education and employment will most affect Afghan women. Considering the Taliban’s hostility to women’s education and employment, sending back any woman or girl is not right. Human rights organizations are protesting the decision of the Pakistani government, pointing to the severe economic and human rights conditions under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The mass deportation of undocumented refugees is known to stem from national security concerns, including increased attacks by the Pakistan Taliban Movement (TTP) on the country’s security forces. The Afghan Taliban regime’s refusal to act against militant structures in its territory also led to these decisions.
There is also evidence that Afghan Taliban groups were involved in some terror attacks. These events have strained Islamabad’s relations with the regime in Kabul. However, this should not be an excuse for the thoughtless decision to deport the entire Afghan refugee population.
Pakistan has kept its borders wide open for geopolitical reasons until now. Now, it has suddenly decided to deport all undocumented migrants. These repatriations will not make Pakistan safer but will lead to many problems.
It is true that the increase in terrorism is a very serious security issue and needs to be dealt with firmly. However, declaring Afghan migrants as scapegoats will not cover up the faulty policy of the Pakistani government. Deporting poor Afghan women and children, many of whom were born and raised in Pakistan and have no other place to go in their own country, will not solve this problem.
Pakistani officials insist that their action against undocumented migrants is not specific to Afghans, complies with international norms, and does not affect legally residing refugees, stating that the decision applies to all illegal immigrants. However, the overwhelming majority of those affected by this decision are Afghan citizens. There is still time to correct the wrong steps before the situation gets out of control.
Look at the images related to the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Gaza, where they have lived for decades and where their grandchildren were born, 75 years after being expelled from their homes in Palestine. Watch thousands of men, women, and children, including the sick and elderly, leave Gaza without even their basic belongings during the brief ceasefire given by Israel.
Although the circumstances are very different, the images of long lines of people, trucks, and trailers on the roads in the border towns between the two countries as ‘illegal Afghans’ are deported from Pakistan, reminded me of the migration in Gaza. A nuclear-armed country with a population of 241 million sees these few million unfortunate refugees as a security threat.
From supporting Hamid Gul’s rocket attacks that devastated Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal, to the rise of the Taliban and the hanging execution of Afghan leader Najibullah under UN protection, Pakistan has been involved in the developments in Afghanistan in one way or another.
Afterward, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan became a headquarters for militants of every origin who were recruited to fight against the Red Army and abandoned after the Soviet withdrawal. This peaked with 9/11. Another long war was fought in partnership with the Pentagon by the Pakistan army. In the end, Pakistan bet on the wrong horse and lost. It cannot be said that the Taliban lost; they won, but since their return to Kabul, TTP’s terror attacks have increased. Thus, as relations between Islamabad and the Taliban deteriorate, ordinary Afghans have become political pawns.
It is at least cruel for Pakistan, which has hosted a large number of Afghan refugees displaced by conflicts in their country, to unjustly attribute the responsibility for crime and violence to its policies rather than to those who have been driven from their homes and to specify a date for them to leave the country.
Palestinians are paying the price of being expelled from their homes as atonement for the sins of Nazi Germany and are subjected to a massacre called genocide. Whose sins must Afghans atone for as they are pushed back into the fire? These people should not be sent into a future full of risks.