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Gen. Asim’s wise move: To deport undocumented and illegal immigrants! By Kashif Mirza


Oct 9, 2023

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of All

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation



Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir said that the government and law enforcement agencies would continue to take action against illegal activities harming the country’s economic interests with full force, the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. Pakistan launched a nationwide crackdown against currency smugglers, hoarders, and black marketers in its bid to stave off an economic crisis that has significantly weakened the country’s national currency, causing its reserves to deplete and inflation to skyrocket to unprecedented levels. Following the crackdown, Pakistan has seen a marked improvement in its national currency. During a meeting of the provincial apex committee, the army chief was briefed about the revised National Action Plan, the security of foreign nationals employed under projects part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project (CPEC), and the repatriation of illegal foreigners from the country. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar approved the plan at a high-level meeting of his top civilian and military officials that if they fail to leave by the deadline, all our state law enforcement agencies will unleash an operation with full-throttle to deport them. The one-document regime policy will replace the decades-old practice of granting special travel permits to individuals with divided tribes straddling the nearly 2,600-kilometer border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has ordered all undocumented immigrants, including 1.7 million Afghans to leave the country by November 1, vowing mass deportations for those who stay. For decades, Pakistan has provided a haven for Afghan refugees escaping conflict and upheaval. Now, Afghans in Pakistan are being caught in tensions between Islamabad and Kabul over militant attacks. The vast majority of refugees in Pakistan are from Afghanistan, dispersed throughout the country, with the majority living in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 58 percent of PoR card holders, Balochistan 23 percent 69 percent live outside Refugee Villages, mostly in urban and peri-urban settings. The new policy does not pertain only to Afghans; it is about all those people from different countries who are illegally residing in Pakistan. The officially registered Afghan refugees and those living lawfully would not be asked to leave Pakistan. But those who have come illegally, whether Afghans or nationals of any country, will have to go back to their respective countries. The government will strictly implement the policy and will confiscate the property and assets of undocumented migrants, along with setting up a tip line for members of the public to turn in people suspected of being undocumented Afghan migrants. The crackdown on undocumented Afghan immigrants stems from a dramatic surge in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in recent months. Pakistan would issue only as many visas as it can manage if would-be Afghan deportees would like to come back to the country. The United Nations and global human rights groups have expressed concerns over Pakistani plans to evict Afghans who illegally immigrated. Pakistan stands ready to support in development of a mechanism to manage and register people in need of international protection on its territory and respond to particular vulnerabilities. No doubt, challenges confront­ing regional peace and stability should be addressed in a col­laborative spirit through collec­tive strategies. Pa­kistan reaffirmed its commitment to further strengthen bilateral ties with Afghanistan so that challenges confronting regional peace and stability be addressed in a col­laborative spirit through collective strategies. Pakistan’s national policy on Afghan refugees remains unchanged without any discrimination. As the situation in Afghanistan stabiliz­es, Pakistan believes that it is the right time to upscale international ef­forts to create conditions con­ducive to the voluntary repatri­ation of Afghan refugees with honor and dignity. The decision of the government of Pakistan is aimed at regulating illegal aliens re­siding in Pakistan, regardless of their nationality. And Pakistan is well within the parameters of the sovereign domestic laws to act in this context. The government’s policy envisages a phased and time-bound repatria­tion of all illegal foreigners residing in Pakistan. These include cases of individuals who are overstaying their vi­sas and do not possess val­id documentation. This is not directed against any specific nationality. However, the latest decision per­tains to illegal migrants and it does not pertain to refugees; these are two separate cases. Afghanistan bilat­eral trade and transit trade continue to take place, any measures taken re­cently or to be taken in the coming days will be in accor­dance with this understand­ing. Pakistan had very clearly articulated its concerns about the threat of terrorism from the Afghan­istan soil. No doubt, Pakistan believes in diplomacy and dialogue and will continue to engage with Afghan au­thorities to fight this threat and to ensure that Afghan soil is not used to foment ter­rorism against Pakistan. Pakistan a primary host for Afghan refugees remains one of the world’s largest refugee host countries and has experienced multiple influxes of Afghan refugees. These span the period from the Soviet invasion in 1979 to the Taliban takeover in 2021, after which some 600,000 Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan. The UN’s human rights agency, the UNHCR, estimates a total of 3.7 million Afghans are living in Pakistan. Over 1.3 million are registered Afghan refugees. Another 840,000 hold an Afghan Citizenship Card (ACC). An estimated 775,000 are undocumented, and 600,000 are new arrivals since August 2021. More than 1.4 million Afghans residing in Pakistan as officially designated refugees and 850,000 Afghan citizen card holders are not the target of the deportation campaign. Until the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, Pakistan officially hosted nearly 2.7 million Afghans. That included 1.3 million registered refugees and 880,000 officially documented economic migrants; the rest were declared unlawful migrants. Pakistan has come under 24 suicide bomb attacks since January, and 14 of them were carried out by Afghan nationals, eight of the 11 militants who recently raided two Pakistani military installations in southwestern Baluchistan province were Afghans. TTP-led insurgent attacks in Pakistan have killed more than 750 civilians and security forces in the first nine months of 2023, showing more than a 19% increase compared with the previous year, according to Pakistani officials and independent assessments. The government has repeatedly said that the Afghan Taliban is giving safe harbor to fighters belonging to the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is ideologically aligned with the Afghan Taliban. Since the TTP’s decision to renege on a peace accord with the Pakistani government in November, the group has launched more than 300 attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone this year. The two latest attacks in Balochistan’s Mastung city and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu city last month killed more than 60 people and wounded dozens. But, Kabul, always for its part, has denied the allegations, saying security concerns in Pakistan have nothing to do with Afghans. 

No country in the world accepts undocumented residents of any status who might jeopardize their security. Under the leadership of Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir Pakistan is determined and taking the appropriate precautions to safeguard its interests by deporting illegal immigrants and undocumented refugees.

Pakistan has evidence that Afghans were involved in these attacks and are taking up the issue through our foreign ministry with Taliban authorities in Afghanistan. Pakistan maintains that leaders and militants of the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, have moved to Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power there two years ago and have stepped up cross-border attacks. The Taliban takeover of Kabul triggered a fresh influx of refugees, bringing more than 700,000 Afghans to Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 have since flown to the United States and European countries under special resettlement programs for their services to U.S.-led international coalition forces, which all chaotically withdrew two years ago after almost two decades of presence in Afghanistan. During a 2016 in similar campaign, more than 600,000 Afghan immigrants, both registered and undocumented, returned to their country, according to data compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). That year saw the exodus of 150,000 Afghans while in 2018, after at least six extensions to the deadline to leave the country, almost 50,000 Afghan citizens, both registered and undocumented, were expelled, according to the UNHCR. Among other things, Pakistan seeks to pressure the Taliban government in Kabul to curb the activities of the militant network Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which operates in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions and has been tied to attacks on Pakistani security forces and suicide bombings in Pakistan. The Pakistani government is concerned that the TTP and the so-called Islamic State (IS) have recruited Afghan nationals in their groups. The attack on the Chitral border region and recent incursions in Balochistan are not possible without the support of Afghan nationals. The Afghan Taliban wants TTP to have sanctuaries in Pakistan. Pakistan authorities are also trying to bolster security ahead of general elections, tentatively scheduled for January 2024. The opaque legal status of many Afghan migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers in Pakistan regarding documentation is also demonstrated by the difference in statistics provided by the UN and Pakistani authorities, who estimate 4.4 million Afghans are in Pakistan, among them 1.7 million undocumented. According to UN estimates, only 8,000 refugees returned to Afghanistan in 2023, 95% from Pakistan. UNHCR offers a voluntary repatriation package consisting of a one-off cash grant of $375 to cover transportation and immediate needs upon arrival. Afghans who have registered with Pakistani authorities need not fear deportation. The entry and presence of refugees is governed under Pakistan’s Foreigners Act, which grants authorities the right to apprehend, detain, and expel foreigners, including refugees and asylum-seekers, who lack valid documentation. Pakistan has not signed the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 protocol covering the status of refugees, which protects people seeking asylum. Instead, Pakistan’s Foreigners’ Act grants the authorities the right to apprehend, detain, and expel foreigners — including refugees and asylum seekers who lack valid documentation. Now, with the government facing dueling economic and political crises, it is clear the Pakistani authorities would repatriate such a large number of refugees, with a deportation campaign to provide a specific time frame for undocumented refugees so that they can peacefully and respectfully wind up their businesses and return to their homeland. While registered refugees in Pakistan are offered limited protection, undocumented Afghans are exposed to arrest, detention, and deportation. It would benefit Pakistan greatly if they decided on accessioning the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. Accepting the convention, asylum-seekers in Pakistan will be given more mobility with now being able to pursue education, healthcare, bank accounts, and employment.

Pakistan has already seen the positive impact of its crackdown on Afghan smuggling routes and the people who were behind them; in September, the Pakistani rupee became the best-performing currency against the U.S. dollar. The economic measures aim to curb the damage caused to the national economy and external sector due to the misuse of the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA). Pakistani customs officials believe that some products that Afghanistan imports through Pakistani ports under ATTA are illegally sent back to Pakistan. The smuggling of these commodities into Pakistan has resulted in multi-billion-dollar tax evasion at a time when Pakistan’s economy is already under extreme strain. The abuse of ATTA has had adverse effects on Pakistan’s economy, making it imperative for the government to take corrective actions. The impact and scope of smuggling connected to Afghanistan, along with the Afghan Taliban’s failure to work with Islamabad to address the latter’s security concerns over the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have perplexed Pakistan’s policymakers. Afghan Taliban cannot expect goodwill from Pakistan when they are sheltering militant groups like the TTP that have carried out countless attacks in Pakistan for years. It is time the Afghan Taliban must realize that the days of sheltering the TTP and other militant organizations along Pakistan’s border without implications are long gone. Pakistan no longer has any willingness to engage in discussion with the TTP. The only options left are surrender or a reasonable agreement that may put the TTP in a position where they are no longer a threat to Pakistan. For more than two years, Pakistan has attempted to talk with the Afghan Taliban over the TTP without result. The arrival of Afghan refugees in Pakistan has always been a growing concern for the locals. They see it as burdening the country’s economy, straining its national resources, and changing the demographics of their regions. Moreover, there’re constant complaints that Afghan refugees for a wave of cheap crystal meth that’s wreaking havoc not only in Karachi but across the country. Profits are smuggled back to Afghanistan in stacks of U.S. dollars, destabilizing the Pakistani rupee. By implementing stricter trade terms, Pakistan is apparently taking proactive steps to protect its economic interests. Pakistan has also made a series of economic concessions to help Afghanistan’s economy, but all of these moves appear to have been a mistake as Kabul continues to dismiss Pakistan’s worries. The stubborn refusal of the Taliban regime to work with Pakistan on security issues, the weak visa regime, the fate of illegal immigrants, and other trade-related issues appear to be the driving force behind Pakistan’s recent punitive moves. It is evident that Pakistan is now willing to use all available means to make the Taliban gentlemen, even though it hasn’t yet targeted TTP safe havens in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s restrictions might have a severe negative impact on Afghanistan’s landlocked economy, which is dependent on Pakistan for international trade. If Kabul continues to protect the TTP at the expense of Pakistan’s economy and stability, Pakistan would be obliged to take even more stringent measures. No country in the world accepts undocumented residents of any status who might jeopardize their security. Under the leadership of Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir Pakistan is determined and take the appropriate precautions to safeguard its interests by deporting illegal immigrants and undocumented refugees.

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