Hundreds of thousands of Afghans living illegally in Pakistan have been given until November 1 to leave voluntarily or be deported, the interior minister said on Tuesday. The actions of the Kabul embassy in Islamabad are being called ‘intimidation’.
The order comes as Pakistan grapples with a rise in attacks that the government attributes to terrorists operating from Afghanistan, a charge Kabul routinely denies.
According to the latest United Nations figures, about 1.3 million Afghans are registered refugees in Pakistan and another 880,000 people have legal status.
But Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said another 1.7 million Afghans were in Pakistan illegally.
According to a report by state news agency APP, they will all have to return home in the coming months.
“The illegal immigrants and illegal aliens living in Pakistan have been given a deadline of November 1,” Bugti told reporters in Islamabad.
“If they do not go… all law enforcement agencies in the provinces or the federal government will be deployed to deport them.”
APP went further, quoting government sources as saying the government wanted all Afghans to leave.
“In the first phase, illegal residents, in the second phase those with Afghan citizenship, and in the third phase those with proof of residence card will be deported,” the report said.
In a statement on X Tuesday, the Afghan embassy said more than a thousand Afghans have been detained in the past two weeks – half of them despite having the legal right to reside in Pakistan.
“Despite repeated assurances from Pakistani authorities, the arrest and harassment of Afghan refugees by police in Pakistan continues,” the report said.
Bugti also said that from November 1, Pakistan would allow entry only to Afghans with valid passports and visas.
For years, Afghans entering Pakistan through land borders were allowed to use their national identity card as a travel document.
There is a huge waiting list in Afghanistan for nationals wanting to obtain a passport, and obtaining a visa for Pakistan can take months.
Bugti also warned of a crackdown on properties and businesses owned by Afghans in Pakistan.
“A task force has been formed at the Ministry of Home Affairs for this purpose. All properties and businesses of those living here illegally are outside our tax net,” he said.
“Our intelligence services will track them down and their cases will be seized by the government.”
Over decades of successive wars, Afghans have flocked to Pakistan in their millions, many living in refugee camps with limited access to education, health care and employment.
An estimated 600,000 people have arrived since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021 and imposed their austere version of Islamic law.
Many seek asylum in third countries.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated since the Taliban’s return, with a sharp increase in attacks along the Pakistani border.
“There have been 24 suicide bombings since January, 14 of which were committed by Afghan nationals,” Bugti told reporters.
Pakistan has cracked down on Afghans in the past, threatening to deport them all, but the campaigns fizzled out after a few months or after talks between the respective capitals.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)