In a significant development, Pakistani security forces carried out a sweeping operation on Wednesday, detaining and deporting numerous Afghans residing in the country without proper documentation. This action comes as the government-enforced deadline for these individuals to leave Pakistan has lapsed.
The operation is part of an overarching anti-migrant crackdown, ostensibly targeting all undocumented or unregistered foreigners, but it predominantly impacts the approximately 2 million Afghan nationals who find themselves in Pakistan without legal documentation, as reported by AP.
The move has been met with criticism from various quarters, including United Nations agencies, human rights organizations, and even the Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan. Pakistan's interim Interior Minister, Sarfraz Bugti, confirmed the onset of deportations, stating, "Today, we said goodbye to 64 Afghan nationals as they began their journey back home. This action is a testament to Pakistan's determination to repatriate any individuals residing in the country without proper documentation."
The operations on Wednesday unfolded in cities like Karachi, Rawalpindi, and various regions within Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, all of which share borders with Afghanistan. The previous day witnessed thousands of Afghans hastily leaving for their homeland, boarding trucks and buses to evade arrest and involuntary deportation.
According to U.N. agencies, there are over 2 million undocumented Afghan nationals in Pakistan, with at least 600,000 of them arriving after the Taliban's takeover in 2021. Human Rights Watch accused Pakistan of employing "threats, abuse, and detention" to coerce Afghan asylum seekers into returning to Afghanistan, calling for the abandonment of the deadline and cooperation with the UN refugee agency for registration.
In response, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban government's spokesperson, expressed concern over the forced expulsion of Afghans, emphasizing the millions who have migrated due to decades of conflict. He urged host countries, without naming Pakistan, to halt the forced deportations and practice tolerance based on Islamic and neighborly principles. Mujahid also extended a welcoming hand to Afghans in exile due to political concerns, promising a secure environment in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, a Taliban delegation journeyed to eastern Nangarhar province in Afghanistan to find solutions for returning Afghans. Authorities are diligently working to establish temporary camps, where Afghan returnees with nowhere to go can find shelter for a month while they secure permanent accommodation.
Tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan have escalated in recent years, with the Pakistani Taliban finding safe havens in Afghanistan and launching attacks on Pakistani forces from there. Since the announcement of the government's deadline on October 3, over 200,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan.
Pakistan has asserted that deportations will be conducted in a "phased and orderly" manner, and that those detained during the crackdown will be treated humanely. However, authorities demolished several Afghan homes on the outskirts of Islamabad to compel them to leave the country.
This crackdown has also raised concerns among thousands of Afghans in Pakistan who are awaiting relocation to the United States under a special refugee program, following their escape from the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan.