By Mohamed Yousry
The security situation between Afghanistan and its neighboring Pakistan, already tense, has escalated since the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan in August 2021. The Pakistani faction of the Taliban movement aims to mirror its Afghan counterpart’s support for their cause, a sentiment openly acknowledged by Taliban officials who assert the Pakistani faction’s integral role in the movement.
Despite hosting nearly two million Afghan migrants and having historically intertwined relations between the two nations, Islamabad seems to have found no exemption from taking stringent measures against Kabul amidst ongoing disturbances.
In early October 2023, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry announced its intention to deport all migrants residing illegally in the country, including approximately 1.7 million Afghans – as estimated by the United Nations – before the end of the month. The ministry warned of immediate deportation for those lacking valid documentation after the specified period.
These decisions have sparked widespread fear among Afghans fleeing the Taliban, apprehensive about forced deportation that could expose them to severe issues with the ruling regime in Afghanistan, namely the Taliban.
In a statement, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Muzzammil Zahrab Baloch, reassured Afghan residents within its borders, emphasizing that the new measures do not specifically target Afghans. Islamabad, according to the statement, has generously hosted Afghan refugees for 40 years, starting from the Soviet occupation until now.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement clarified that there is no need to fear deportation for registered Afghan refugees, highlighting that the concern pertains only to those residing illegally, regardless of their nationality.
Reasons for Panic
These Pakistani decisions come amid escalating violence along the Afghan-Pakistani border fueled and supported by the Taliban. This development raises concerns among Afghan refugees about the consequences of forced deportation and the risk of falling into the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, expressed concerns about Pakistan’s new policy toward refugees. He stressed the importance of not repatriating refugees without ensuring voluntary returns.
These measures have faced internal opposition within Afghanistan. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, issued a statement criticizing Kabul’s objections to these measures. He pointed out that such actions are unacceptable, urging Islamabad to reconsider the planned deportations at the end of this month.
Dr. Mohamed El Sayed, an expert in Asian affairs, explained in an exclusive statement to the Reference that such actions are not new for Islamabad. Deportation measures are taken periodically and routinely, similar to other countries globally, focusing on not allowing residence for those lacking proper documentation.
He highlighted that refugees’ fears this time are justified due to the circumstances surrounding the decision. The heightened violence by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistani border, coupled with their support from the Pakistani Taliban, adds weight to the refugees’ concerns. The fear is further justified by the Taliban’s treatment of returnees as enemies of the regime, exemplified by their refusal to adhere to calls for amnesty, even for former officials returning after 20 years, such as Bayandeh Mohammad Arab, the brother of the former Afghan National Islamic Movement military official Abdullah Rashi Dostum, who received a death sentence for alleged involvement in events two decades ago in the Dushanbe Lili region of Jowzjan province.