The Government of Pakistan’s decision to repatriate foreign nationals lacking valid and legal documents, particularly a significant number of refugees from Afghanistan residing illegally in the country, is firmly grounded in international best practices and is considered justified. This measure is part of the government’s broader effort to maintain order and security within its borders, as well as to address the challenges posed by the presence of illegal migrants and refugees without the required documentation or permits.
Despite the longstanding history of legal migration into Pakistan, a substantial portion of Afghan residents lacked essential documents, making it difficult to monitor their activities across the country. The context of militancy in certain regions of Pakistan further heightened the need to distinguish between peaceful residents and those potentially involved in undesirable activities. While there was no direct implication of illegal migrants in militancy, the government found it essential to differentiate between those living peacefully and those with potential security risks, especially in light of the challenges posed by militancy in certain regions of Pakistan.
To address these concerns, the Government of Pakistan made a principled decision to repatriate illegal Afghans upon the expiration of a specified deadline. This decision aligns with the laws of the land and prioritizes the safety and security of both Afghan nationals and local residents. The government has taken steps to facilitate the repatriation process, establishing over forty-nine transit centers designed to temporarily house approximately 1.7 million undocumented Afghans.
To closely monitor the repatriation process, control rooms have been set up at the Ministry of Interior, with oversight from various departments, including the police, district administration, intelligence agencies, Nadra, Immigration, and PDMA. Adequate security measures have been implemented at holding centers, where security personnel escort migrants to border crossings. Importantly, instead of detaining them in prisons, individuals, including women, children, and the elderly, are accommodated in transit centers across all provinces and Islamabad, where they are treated with respect and provided meals and medical facilities.
Despite the government’s efforts to address the situation in a humane manner, there has been criticism from certain quarters within Pakistan and key individuals from the Interim Afghan Government (IAG). Some members of the IAG, associated with the Taliban, have issued threatening remarks, creating an additional layer of complexity. It’s important to note that there has been a gradual increase in militancy in Pakistan since the Taliban-led Interim Afghan Government assumed control of Afghanistan in August 2021.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a significant militant organization responsible for carrying out attacks in Pakistan. Estimates suggest that over 6,000 TTP militants are stationed in Afghanistan, utilizing various hideouts since military operations targeted them in conflict-prone areas. During the previous Afghan government under Ashraf Ghani, these elements operated with support from Indian RAW and Afghan NDS. After August 2021, TTP escalated its activities against Pakistan from across the Pak-Afghan border, despite assurances from the Taliban government that Afghan soil would not be used by any militant organization against neighboring states.
In addition to TTP, there are instances of Daesh and Baloch separatists exploiting Afghan soil for launching attacks within Pakistan. The recent statement from the IAG, as conveyed by spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, asserting that the TTP issue belongs to Pakistan and not Afghanistan, adds a layer of ambiguity. While it emphasizes the sovereignty of Afghanistan, it contradicts the IAG’s commitment to preventing Afghan soil from being used by militant organizations against neighboring states.
TTP remains a significant concern for Pakistan, and the assertion that it is solely Pakistan’s problem does not align with the ground realities. Despite Afghanistan being a fraternal neighbor, Pakistan has refrained from engaging in a blame game with the IAG. However, ground realities cannot be ignored. Reports indicate that arms and ammunition left behind in Afghanistan by the U.S. are being utilized by TTP, challenging Kabul’s claims that TTP is not using Afghan soil against Pakistan.
The surge in militancy along the western borders of Pakistan is a serious development, and the IAG must take decisive actions against TTP and all terrorists hiding in Afghanistan, utilizing its soil for attacks against Pakistan. Pakistan, for its part, has consistently urged the Taliban-led IAG to establish its authority in the country and curb the militant activities of all organizations operating from Afghan soil.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that over 3 million Afghan refugees have been residing in Pakistan for decades, treated as equals without discrimination. This generous hospitality and open-heartedness have set a precedent globally, showcasing Pakistan’s commendable accommodation of its Afghan brethren. As the government initiates the repatriation of illegal migrants to their homeland, it ensures a dignified and respectful process in accordance with the law. Both the IAG and all segments of Pakistani society should recognize and appreciate the peaceful and respectful return of these foreign nationals, aligning with the principles of the law of the land.