Pakistan Vengeance Against Pashtuns: The Exploding Afghan Refugee Crises 


A gathering of young Afghan deportees on the Afghanistan side of the Durand Line in November 2023.

By A. Shafaq

In what can only be described as an egregious act, Pakistan has decided to forcibly expel all the Afghans who have taken refuge in that country. The expulsion is not limited to only those Afghans who are not registered but will eventually extend to even those Afghans who hold Proof of Registration (PoR) cards. This reprehensible step will affect nearly 3 million Afghans who are currently in Pakistan and is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. 

Many of the affected people were born in Pakistan and know no other country. Even by Pakistan’s own constitution, they are entitled to Pakistani citizenship but have been denied it. Others have been living for decades in Pakistan and have no connection left to Afghanistan. Still others arrived in recent years to escape the Taliban, who are now ruling in Afghanistan. For many of them, being forced to return to Afghanistan is nothing short of a death sentence. They have a legitimate fear of reprisal killings by the Taliban and other assorted extremists in Afghanistan. Despite this blatantly inhumane and extreme step, the so-called international community and the legions of so-called human rights activists and organizations have done nothing more than issue pro forma statements appealing to Pakistan to reverse its decision. Some other countries like the US and UK have leaned on Pakistan to exempt a few thousand Afghans who are likely to be given refuge in these countries. All others have been thrown to the wolves, especially religious minorities like the oppressed Shia Hazaras or women who are denied basic human rights in Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. 

According to Pakistan, the expulsion of illegal and unregistered Afghans is as per international law. The argument is that no country allows illegal migrants, and to expect Pakistan to bear the burden of millions of Afghans is unconscionable. What is more, they insist that the move isn’t aimed only against the illegal Afghans but also every other illegal migrant in Pakistan. But as is their will, the Pakistani authorities are resorting to half-truths and complete lies to justify their actions. The Afghans have become refugees because of wars that have been foisted in their country by and from Pakistan. The waves of refugees from Afghanistan have all been the result of the pernicious and myopic strategic policies of Pakistan. In the 1980s, Pakistan was the base camp for the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation. In the 1990s, Pakistan supported the Hizb-e-Islami and Gulbadin Hekmatyar – their favourite Afghan commander –  in the civil war which devastated the country and reduced cities like Kabul into rubble. Later, Pakistan launched the Taliban and this created a second wave of refugees. While some refugees did return to Afghanistan after 9/11 and the ouster of Taliban, many more became refugees because of the Taliban victory, which was supported with men, materials and money by Pakistan even as it pretended to be an ally of the US.

The fact of the matter is that the entire move is aimed only at the Afghans and in particular, the Pashtuns. No other group – the Bengalis or Rohingyas – who are also taken refuge in Pakistan have been targeted by the authorities in this expulsion drive. Clearly, the spin that the Pakistani authorities are not singling out the Afghans is a smokescreen to avoid accusations of racial profiling. This would have exposed Pakistan’s hypocrisy internationally. After all, Pakistan never tires of sermonising and pontificating to other countries to accept refugees, both those fleeing political or religious persecution and those who are essentially economic migrants. Nevertheless, the announcement that every undocumented and illegal migrant (regardless of how many years they have lived in Pakistan) will be repatriated has opened the most vulnerable and miserable people in Pakistan to extortion and brutality by the security agencies. The local police knows whose documentation is dodgy and feels empowered to exploit these hapless people, stealing from them their hard-earned money in times when even normal middle-class people are finding it difficult to survive economically. 

Targeting Afghans and Pashtuns in Pakistan’s Expulsion Drive 

What is worse, the drive to force out the Afghans has also targeted Pakistani Pashtuns. The racist and culturally ignorant Punjab Police and Punjabi dominated paramilitaries have picked up Pakistani Pashtuns and carted them away for deportation to Afghanistan. Entreaties and desperate cries for help have all fallen on deaf ears. In a few cases where the media has got wind of the indignities being heaped on Pakistani citizens, the government has made a show of issuing instructions to not molest Pakistani Pashtuns. But many have not been lucky and have been placed in concentration camps – Pakistani authorities call then holding centers—pending their deportation. No independent media has been given access to these ‘holding centers’ where conditions are said to be sub-human. As if this were not enough, the Afghans, or Pashtuns, have had their decades of savings expropriated by the rapacious Pakistani security forces. No Afghan is allowed to take more than PKR 50,000 back with him. Many of them are being forced to make distress sales of their assets—properties, houses, businesses, vehicles, household items, and valuable items—if these have not already been snatched by Pakistani security personnel. Although the Taliban government has appealed to Pakistan to not steal from the Afghan refugees, their intercession has not had much effect on the ground where the rapacity continues unabated. 

Collective Punishment of Afghan Refugees

What Pakistan is really doing is administering collective punishment to Afghan refugees for the alleged non-compliance and non-cooperation of the Taliban to Pakistani demands to act against the TTP. By weaponizing the refugees, Pakistan is flexing its leverage in Afghanistan and signaling to the Taliban that it can raise financial, humanitarian, political, and social costs if they do not jump on Pakistan’s tune. For the Taliban, rehabilitating anything between 1 to 3 million Afghans is next to impossible, given the rudimentary state structure they have and the paucity of resources they suffer. The difficulties that the repatriation creates for the Taliban regime will only add to the already dismal humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, more so at a time when winter is coming and finding even basic shelter for the returning people will be a very tall task. The forced expulsion of the refugees is just one of a series of steps being taken by Pakistan, albeit the most inhumane one. Pakistan has also placed obstacles on Afghan trade and withdrawn the more than 100-year-old easement rights given to tribes straddling the contentious border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The irony in the steps being taken by Pakistan is that it is meting out collective punishment to even more Afghans, even as it excoriates Israel for inflicting collective punishment on a lesser number of Palestinians. Pakistan has criticized Israel for punishing Palestinians for the actions of Hamas, even as it punishes Afghans for the actions of TTP.  

But the hypocrisy is not just an affliction of Pakistan; it is just as much a malady in the West, where they woke up in arms over the predicament of the Palestinians but are utterly unconcerned over the uprooting of millions of Afghans who are being sent back to what they have escaped. The death of the conscience of the woke West and their deathly silence over the unending trials and tribulations of the Afghans will forever be a mark of shame. Even more shameful has been the conduct of Western governments and international institutions like the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who have been in the forefront of virtue signaling but have refused to go beyond issuing statements and tut-tutting their disapproval of Pakistan’s actions. But they have refused to lean on and pressure Pakistan to cease and desist from the forced repatriation and deportation of Afghan refugees. The UN Secretary-General who has been quick to get involved in Gaza crisis has refused to weigh in on the Afghan refugee crisis. The US, EU, and other standard bearers of human rights have also refrained from using their considerable influence and leverage over Pakistan to force it to back off from throwing the Afghan refugees under the bus.

In the not-too-distant future, when these desperate Afghans and Pashtuns lash out against Pakistan in general and Punjabis in particular, the same root cause argument being forwarded in the support of Palestinians will hold true even more for the Afghans and Pashtuns.

  1. Shafaq (pseudonym) is a researcher and lecturer at one of the private universities in Kabul.

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the articles.

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