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Pakistan to repatriate Afghan refugees en masse as ties with Taliban turn toxic

The decision on repatriation of 1.1 million Afghans follows Afghan Taliban refusal to take action against TTP.

Escalating tension with the neighbouring Taliban government, Pakistan has decided to evict all of Afghan refugees – numbering 1.1 million. The move, the first major policy decision of the interim Anwarul Haq Kakar government, follows constant refusal of the Afghan Taliban regime to act against Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has launched a bloody campaign against Pakistan armed forces and its cadres allegedly to find sanctuary in Afghanistan.

The decision on repatriation of Afghans, said the Express Tribune, is yet to be officially communicated. But the plan to evict more than 1.1 million illegal Afghan refugees has been approved by the federal cabinet through the Interior Ministry circulation summary.

Pakistan is frustrated that despite repeated demands the Afghan Taliban are reluctant to take action against the TTP. Last week, a Pakistani delegation led by special envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Asif Durrani visited Kabul to press upon the Taliban government to take action against the TTP.

It was said that the Afghan Taliban promised to take some tangible steps to neutralise the TTP threat. Officials in Pakistan, however, are sceptical as the Afghan Taliban previously also made similar commitments.

According to sources as many as 400,000 Afghans entered Pakistan illegally since the return of the Afghan Taliban to Afghanistan in August 2021, adding that there have been another 700,000 Afghans identified who have been living in the country illegally.

Islamabad has hosted millions of refugees for decades and at one point five million Afghan refugees were residing in Pakistan. Some estimates suggested that there were still close to four million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. However, the count of individuals possessing valid refugee cards, as per official records, is considerably lower.

Sources added that the decision to evict illegal Afghan refugees came after the crackdown against terrorism, currency smuggling, and the illegal trade of sugar and fertilizer.

In the first phase, the Afghan refugees who are residing illegally and have not renewed their visas will be evicted, an ARY news report said, adding that Afghan citizens will be evicted in the second phase whereas the proof of residence card holders will be repatriated in the third phase.

Earlier, in a citywide crackdown launched against illegal immigrants, the Karachi police claimed to have arrested at least 293 Afghan nationals for staying in the metropolis without valid travel documents.

In a statement, the police said several raids were carried out between September 9 to 12, wherein at least 253 illegal Afghan immigrants were taken into custody.

Meanwhile, 68 immigrants were arrested from Korangi district and 49 from Kemari district. Separately, 91 Afghan citizens were arrested from Gulshan Iqbal, Shahrah Faisal, Sohrab Goth and other areas.

The interim cabinet gave authorities the go-ahead to make arrangements for sending all these Afghans back to their homeland.

Sources further said the Afghan Taliban government was also informed about Pakistan’s decision.

The move by Pakistan to evict illegal Afghan refugees is likely to trigger a response from the Afghan Taliban government and importantly from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is against the policy of forced repatriation of refugees.