Border Clashes and Refugee Crisis: Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations on Edge


Afghan families forcibly returned by the Pakistani government in 2023, waiting on the Afghanistan side of the Durand Line near Torkham crossing. Photo credit: @private for ADN

By Shinwari

Pakistan has decided to implement a sweeping measure that could see the involuntary return of approximately 850,000 documented Afghan refugees to their homeland next month if they do not heed the call for voluntary departure. This imminent action, extensively reported by various Pakistani media outlets, marks the latest chapter in a saga of forced deportations targeting Afghan migrants. Scheduled to commence on April 15, the impending expulsions are set to particularly impact individuals holding Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC), an identification document issued by the Pakistani government. Initially, ACC holders will be encouraged to leave voluntarily; however, the consequences of non-compliance are grave, as they will face arrest followed by deportation.

This forthcoming move represents the second phase of Pakistan’s overarching initiative aimed at repatriating over 3 million Afghan refugees. The gravity of the situation has not escaped the attention of legal experts and human rights advocates. Many underscores the precarious circumstances confronting those subjected to forced deportation, emphasizing that over 850,000 ACC-holding Afghans are in the crosshairs, with no distinction made between them andthe individuals possessing valid visas.

The echoes of past expulsions reverberate ominously, punctuated by accounts of widespread abuses and human rights violations. Allegations of extortion by law enforcement officials and wrongful deportations of individuals holding valid documentation cast a dark shadow over previous deportation efforts. Against this backdrop, human rights advocates have called for urgent intervention to safeguard the fundamental rights and well-being of refugees.

The international community has cast a watchful eye on Pakistan’s handling of the Afghan refugee crisis, with organizations such as Amnesty International questioning the rationale behind targeting Afghan refugees. Recent hostilities, including the shelling of a Pakistani military installation by the Taliban, further complicate an already tenuous situation, potentially influencing Pakistan’s approach to Afghan migrants.

Pakistan’s evolving stance towards Afghan refugees charts a trajectory from initial hospitality to a posture characterized by stringent enforcement measures. Once regarded as a temporary sanctuary for those fleeing the tyranny of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s stance has changed into a hardened resolve to repatriate Afghans, resulting in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Afghans since 2023. The main reason for this action by Pakistan is the alleged involvement of Afghan refugees in the terror attacks inside Pakistan. However there has not been any evidence for these allegations, and appears to be mainly rhetoric by the Pakistani establishment to hide their inefficiency in controlling terror entities. 

The repercussions of these arbitrary actions by Pakistan has put Afghanistan in a delicate situation, making them to grapple with the strain of accommodating returning refugees. The influx of returnees places unprecedented pressure on Afghanistan’s already fragile infrastructure and strained resources, exacerbating socio-economic challenges and fueling a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

Amidst these challenges, the longstanding dispute over the Durand Line adds another layer of complexity to the regional dynamics. The Durand Line, drawn during British colonial rule, serves as the de facto border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan has never recognized it as an international border, leading to ongoing tensions between the two nations.

The fencing of the Durand Line by Pakistan has only exacerbated these tensions. The barrier, intended to curb cross-border movements and prevent infiltration by militants, has been met with vehement opposition from Afghanistan. The Afghan government views the fencing as a unilateral action that disregards Afghan sovereignty and exacerbates the plight of Afghan refugees seeking sanctuary in Pakistan.

The recent clashes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border underscore the volatility of the situation. Retaliatory strikes and skirmishes between Pakistani and Afghan forces serve as a grim reminder of the simmering tensions fueled by territorial disputes and competing geopolitical interests.

As tensions simmer along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the fate of Afghan refugees hangs precariously in the balance. With the specter of a second phase of deportations looming large, the international community finds itself at a crossroads, compelled to confront the humanitarian crisis being precipitated by Pakistan. 

Author chooses a single pseudonym. Shinwari is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar, Pakistan. 

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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