Crackdown on illegal Afghans commences

800 Afghan nationals rounded up in ‘search operation’ around Islamabad

Our Correspondent October 01, 2023
Afghan refugees wait at the UNHCR registration centre in Peshawar on June 23, 2016. PHOTO: AFP/FILE


The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), in coordination with sensitive agency personnel, launched a crackdown on illegal Afghan residents in Islamabad and arrested 800 Afghan nationals, it emerged on Sunday.

Sources indicated that the operation took place in various areas around the federal capital, including Bhara Kahu, Tarnol, Mehrabadian, Golra, Shams Colony, and others. Approximately half of those apprehended were subsequently released after verifying their legal residency status in Pakistan.

Of the remaining 375 Afghan nationals who lacked proper legal documentation, they were detained and are slated for deportation. Additionally, approximately 25 individuals are being held pending the verification of their documents.

This crackdown on Afghan nationals occurred less than a week after the federal caretaker cabinet made a significant policy decision to repatriate all illegal Afghan refugees. This decision is viewed in the context of ongoing tensions between the two neighboring countries.

According to sources, around 400,000 Afghans had entered Pakistan illegally since the return of the Afghan Taliban to Afghanistan in August 2021. Furthermore, an additional 700,000 Afghans have been identified as residing in Pakistan without proper legal status.

The cabinet authorized relevant authorities to facilitate the repatriation of these 1.1 million Afghan refugees who lacked visas or valid documents permitting them to stay in Pakistan. Sources also claimed that many of these undocumented refugees were involved in anti-state and criminal activities, necessitating their prompt return to their homeland.

Read CTD dismantles TTP sleeper cell in Swabi

According to Express News, several lists of illegal Afghan nationals had been compiled by the CTD following intelligence-based reports. The report added that the law-enforcement authorities claimed that several suspected criminals had also been identified in these lists.

According to sources, the operation against the illegal Afghans was expected to be expedited in the coming days. They added that the Afghan Taliban government was also informed about Pakistan’s decision.

The crackdown came against the backdrop of simmering tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).Observers believed that Pakistan’s stepped-up campaign may be linked to the Afghan Taliban’s reluctance to launch a crackdown against the TTP.

Pakistan is frustrated that despite repeated demands the Afghan Taliban are reluctant to take action against the TTP. Last month, a Pakistani delegation led by special envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Asif Durrani visited Kabul to press upon the Taliban government to take action against the TTP.

It was stated at that time the Afghan Taliban promised to take some tangible steps to neutralise the TTP threat. Officials in Pakistan, however, are sceptical as the Afghan Taliban had previously also made similar commitments.

The move by Pakistan to evict illegal Afghan refugees is likely to trigger a response from the Afghan Taliban government and importantly from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is against the policy of forced repatriation of refugees.

Last Thursday, Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani confirmed at a news conference in Islamabad that the government had decided to force out all Afghans and other foreign nationals living unlawfully in the country.

Read more Kabul asked to purge terrorists of all shades

In response, the spokesperson for the UNHCR in Islamabad said that his agency was “seeking clarity” from Pakistani counterparts about the new policy, stressing that “any refugee return must be voluntary, without any pressure to ensure protection for those seeking safety”.

Spokesperson Qaiser Khan Afridi, according to the Voice of America (VOA) said that the UN was alarmed by the plan because it could affect Afghans in need of international protection, adding that their lives or freedom would be in danger if they were repatriated forcefully.

Jilani had said that officially registered Afghan refugees and those living lawfully would not be asked to leave Pakistan “but those who have come here illegally, whether Afghans or nationals of any country, will have to go back to their respective countries, as we will strictly implement the policy”.

Afridi noted that Pakistan’s role as a “generous refugee host for decades” had been acknowledged globally, but more needs to be done to match this generosity. “UNHCR stands ready to support Pakistan in developing a mechanism to manage and register people in need of international protection ...”



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