Pakistan orders all ‘illegal immigrants’ to leave country
Interior minister says some 1.73 million Afghan nationals in Pakistan have no legal documents to stay
An estimated 600,000 Afghans have arrived in Pakistan since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
PAKISTAN on Tuesday (3) ordered all illegal immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghan nationals, to leave the country or face expulsion after revealing that 14 of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year were carried out by Afghan nationals.
It was not immediately clear how Pakistani authorities could ensure the illegal immigrants leave, or how they could find them to expel them.
Kabul’s embassy in Islamabad described the crackdown as “harassment”.
Islamabad’s announcement marks a new low in its relations with Kabul that deteriorated after border clashes between the neighbours last month.
“We have given them a November 1 deadline,” said interior minister Sarfraz Bugti, adding that all illegal immigrants should leave voluntarily or face forcible expulsion after that date.
Bugti said some 1.73 million Afghan nationals in Pakistan had no legal documents to stay, adding a total of 4.4 million Afghan refugees lived in Pakistan.
“There are no two opinions that we are attacked from within Afghanistan and Afghan nationals are involved in attacks on us,” he said. “We have evidence.”
State-run news agency APP said, “In the first phase, illegal residents, in the second phase, those with Afghan citizenship, and in the third phase those with proof of residence cards will be expelled.”
In a statement posted on X on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s embassy said more than 1,000 Afghans have been detained in the past two weeks – half of them despite having a legal right to be in Pakistan.
“Despite the repeated promises of the Pakistan authorities, the arrest and harassment of Afghan refugees by the police in Pakistan continues,” it said.
Bugti said also that from November 1, Pakistan would only allow entry to Afghans with valid passports and visas.
For years, Afghans entering Pakistan through land borders have been allowed to use their national identity cards as a travel document.
There is a huge waiting list in Afghanistan for nationals seeking to get passports, and obtaining a Pakistan visa can take months.
Bugti also warned of a crackdown on property and businesses owned by Afghans in Pakistan.
“A task force has been formed for that purpose at the interior ministry. All the properties and businesses of those living here illegally are out of our tax net,” he said.
“Our intelligence agencies will search them out and their business will be confiscated by the government.”
Afghans have poured into Pakistan in their millions during decades of successive wars, many living in refugee camps with restricted access to education, healthcare and employment.
An estimated 600,000 have arrived since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021 and imposed their austere version of Islamic law.
Islamabad has received the largest influx of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Kabul in 1979.
Bugti spoke in Islamabad after civil and military leaders met the prime minister and army chief to discuss law and order after a recent spate of militant attacks.
The violence has seen an unusual uptick since local Taliban militants known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group of hardline Sunni Islamist militants, revoked a ceasefire with the government late last year.
The TTP wants to overthrow the Pakistani government to replace it with its strict rule under Islamic law.
Two suicide bombings targeted religious gatherings in Pakistan last week, killing at least 57 people. The TTP denied involvement. Bugti said one of the suicide bombers had been identified as an Afghan national.
Daesh (Islamist State group) also operates in the Afghan border regions and has been involved in attacks in Pakistan.
The Pakistani military has conducted several offensives against Islamist militants, mainly in the rugged mountainous region along the Afghan border, which it says forced them to flee to Afghanistan.
Islamabad alleged that the militants use Afghan soil to train fighters and plan attacks inside Pakistan, a charge Kabul denies, saying Pakistani security is a domestic issue.
There was no immediate response from Kabul to Bugti’s comments.
Pakistan has launched crackdowns on Afghans in the past and threatened to deport them all, but the campaigns have fizzled out after a few months, or following talks between the respective capitals.