After decades of indecisiveness, Pakistan has recently made the critical decision to repatriate all illegal Afghan residents who are currently living and working within its borders. This decision stems from the significant security threat posed by these individuals to both Pakistan and its citizens.
To facilitate this process, the Apex Committee, composed of top civil caretaker government and military officials, convened for a special meeting on October 3. During this meeting, they set October 31 as the deadline for the voluntary return of all illegal Afghans residing and working in Pakistan. Failing voluntary compliance, Pakistan will be compelled to forcibly expel these individuals from its territory, with their fraudulently acquired assets, both movable and immovable, subject to confiscation.
The impetus for this decision came after comprehensive investigations into recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan. These investigations revealed that 14 out of 24 suicide bombings this year were carried out by Afghan nationals. Presently, Pakistani authorities estimate that approximately 1.73 million illegal Afghans are residing and working within Pakistan, without any legal documentation.
It is worth noting that there is a total Afghan population of 4.4 million, comprising both legal and illegal residents living and working in Pakistan. Among these, 2.7 million possess valid Proof of Registration (PoR) documents issued by the Pakistani National Database Authority (NADRA) or hold Afghan passports and visas. However, estimating the number of Afghans, both refugees and illegal migrants, goes beyond the 4.4 million figure. A substantial number of Afghans have illicitly obtained Pakistani identity cards. Unfortunately, neither NADRA nor the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees, nor the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) possess exact or authentic data regarding the number of children born to Afghans in Pakistan. Consequently, the figure of 1.73 million illegal Afghans in Pakistan does not account for these children, making the actual number of illegal Afghans significantly higher.
Although there has been no specific announcement, Pakistani authorities are also considering a crackdown on hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens who, over the years, fraudulently acquired Pakistani identity documents such as Computerized National Identity Cards (NIC) or passports, often with the complicity of corrupt Pakistani officials. Such a crackdown is crucial, as it exposes not only the susceptibility of Pakistani immigration officials to corruption but also highlights the deficiencies in the governance systems, especially concerning foreigners and their activities. More concerning is that these Afghans, possessing Pakistani identity documents, do not exhibit loyalty to the state and its people. This presents a substantial security threat to the country and its core interests.
The timing of this decision to repatriate illegal Afghan refugees is significant, as Pakistan currently grapples with severe economic, political, and social crises and conflicts. Many of these multidimensional crises and challenges have been linked to the presence of a massive number of Afghans in Pakistan, both as refugees and illegal migrants. There is no doubt that Afghans in Pakistan have been involved in acts of terrorism, and a substantial portion of the instability, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, can be attributed to the involvement of Afghans in terrorist and militant activities. Furthermore, Afghans have been hired for decades by locals as assassins in their disputes over property and other matters. In this regard, Afghans possess a dual advantage – they can be easily recruited for nominal sums of money, and they can temporarily return to Afghanistan to evade arrest and legal prosecution in Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, traditional disputes have persisted due to the involvement of Afghans in rival groups, perpetuating violence and instability.
In addition to Afghans’ involvement in terrorism, militancy, personal disputes, and family feuds, their significant contribution to illegal businesses has posed a major problem in Pakistan. Specifically, Afghan engagement in activities such as money laundering and the illegal transfer of funds through hawala and hundi financial transactions is a cause for concern. In these transactions, expatriate Pakistanis’ family members in Pakistan receive favorable exchange rates in Pakistani currency in exchange for foreign currencies like dollars, euros, dinars, and dirhams earned abroad, which are then transferred to Pakistan through Afghan intermediaries. This process has been a matter of particular concern due to its negative impact on Pakistan’s economy.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, which has a substantial stake in international financial transactions in South Asia, has reportedly collaborated with Afghans to undermine Pakistan’s access to much-needed foreign exchange. This collusion has resulted in significant economic losses for Pakistan, depriving the country of foreign exchange earned by Pakistanis working abroad.
Afghans have also been involved in illegal Afghan Transit trade, wherein billions of dollars’ worth of goods meant for Afghanistan are imported but end up being smuggled back into Pakistan. This illicit trade has inflicted substantial losses on Pakistani industries and the overall economy, severely damaging Pakistan’s interests.
Additionally, Afghans have increasingly purchased businesses in prosperous Pakistani cities, particularly Peshawar and Quetta. This trend has displaced local business owners, resulting in significant unemployment and poverty among the local population.
Recently, Afghan currency dealers and traders have engaged in panic-buying of US dollars from Pakistani currency markets, especially in Peshawar and Quetta, in exchange for Pakistani rupees. This has not only led to a sharp depreciation of the Pakistani rupee but also a massive outflow of US dollars from Pakistan, primarily to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. Consequently, the Afghan currency has strengthened against the Pakistani rupee, a development even acknowledged by the Afghan Taliban rulers.
Lastly, the Afghan Taliban have maintained close ties with the Pakistani Taliban, who have conducted terrorist attacks within Pakistan with the tacit support of their Afghan counterparts. Although the Afghan Taliban deny supporting the Pakistani Taliban, many of the latter openly reside in Afghanistan. In recent decades, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the Pakistani Taliban have posed the most significant threat to Pakistan and its stability. The TTP has been known to use both illegal and, at times, recognized Afghan refugees living in Pakistan as facilitators for their activities.
Considering this complex backdrop, the decision to repatriate 1.7 million illegal Afghans is not only appropriate but long overdue in addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by their presence in Pakistan.