Walking the Plank
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Around 700,000 Afghan refugees fled to neighboring Pakistan since 2021 when the Taliban assumed power after the exit of the US military and its allies. They brought the total of Afghans in the country to 3.7 million, according to Human Rights Watch, most having already sought refuge there to escape the violence in their Central Asian country. Now the Pakistani government wants to kick out about 1.7 million of them.
Early this month, Pakistani officials unexpectedly announced that migrants without legal status would need to leave by November 1 or face arrest and expulsion, reported CNN. The officials claimed national security was at stake. Afghan nationals, they said, perpetrated 14 of the 24 suicide bombings that occurred in Pakistan this year.
Officials blamed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a terror group that is “ideologically aligned” with the Afghan Taliban, for the surge in violence, wrote Al Jazeera. They also allege that Taliban officials in the Afghan capital of Kabul offer support and safe harbor to the Pakistani Taliban after their raids in Pakistani regions bordering Afghanistan.
Foisting a humanitarian crisis on the Taliban in the Afghan capital of Kabul is therefore arguably a means to counter the Taliban’s support for terror within Pakistan. “The main objective of this crackdown is to pressure the Afghan Taliban government to stop supporting the Pakistani Taliban,” Pakistan-based political analyst Shahzada Zulfiqar told the Guardian.
Afghan officials have decried Pakistan’s decision, saying it only sets the stage for human suffering and a humanitarian crisis.
It certainly would set the stage for tragedy and also benefit the Afghan Taliban in some instances.
For example, take the case of Mohammad Abed Andarabi, a former prosecutor for the American-backed Afghan government that the Taliban ousted. He escaped the Taliban – only to now be running from Pakistani police, the Washington Post wrote. His visa has expired, so technically he is an illegal immigrant. But he faces death if Pakistani authorities send him back to Kabul.
Andarabi’s return would be a case of “refoulement,” a violation of international law when someone is sent to a country where they would face torture or other inhuman treatment or punishment. The United Nations issued just such a warning to the Pakistani government regarding the Afghan refugees.
But those complaints are falling by the wayside in light of the xenophobic, anti-Afghan climate that has been brewing in Pakistan, the New Humanitarian explained. In September, the Pakistani government offered to pay anyone who could provide information about migrant smuggling rings. Supposed tipsters alerted police to Afghans, leading to roundups that included Afghans living legally in Pakistan.
None of this context means much, of course, to the Afghan families now on the road to the home they wanted to leave behind.