Cliams Afghanis Are Being Ethnically Cleansed from Pakistan

Image by Joel Heard.

Pakistan is ethnically cleansing Afghani people from its territory.

In early October, the caretaker government in Islamabad stated that all undocumented foreigners – Afghan refugees – illegally residing in Pakistan had until November 1 to leave the country.

After an outcry by human rights organizations, this deadline was extended to the end of the year for those who possess documentation. However, not only is that extension omitting a great number of the vulnerable but it is also too late for the 280,000 who have already crossed the border, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Pakistan is currently host to about 4 million Afghans. Approximately 2.5 million of them have some form of approved government documentation. The government has stated that 1.7 million Afghan nationals currently in Pakistan have no paperwork at all.

Critics have decried the move, slamming the Pakistani authorities and accusing them of ethnic cleansing, saying the crackdown is indiscriminate and seems to be based not on bureaucracy but rather on ethnic considerations.

It seems clear then that the government’s crackdown on Afghans allegedly living in the country illegally is indiscriminate and goes well beyond the governments stated purview of targeting “undocumented” people only.

So why in fact is Pakistan targeting Afghan refugees?

Islamabad blames the refugees for a recent spike in attacks by armed groups, most of them carried out by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as Pakistani Taliban because of its ideological affinity with the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan’s reaction to these attacks is to expel all those affiliated with Afghanistan, including these refugees.

The expulsions come after earlier efforts by Pakistan, such as trade restrictions, to exert pressure on Kabul to rein in the TTP whose attacks on military and police present a severe security challenge to the Pakistani state. Acting Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar said earlier this month that TTP attacks have risen by 60 percent since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, with over 2,000 people killed.

It is unclear how the refugees are considered to be involved with the TTP as they are not known to have any affiliation with the group other than sharing the same nationality. Pakistan’s decision to kick out nearly two million refugees appears to be a “wide-brush” move without any consideration for their rights or well-being.

Amnesty International (AI) has called on Pakistan to “immediately halt the continued detentions, deportations and widespread harassment of Afghan refugees.”

“Thousands of Afghan refugees are being used as political pawns to be returned to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where their life and physical integrity could be at risk amidst an intensified crackdown on human rights and an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. No one should be subjected to mass forced deportations, and Pakistan would do well to remember its international legal obligations, including the principle of non-refoulement,” said Livia Saccardi, AI’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns for South Asia.

“If the Pakistani government doesn’t halt the deportations immediately, it will be denying thousands of at-risk Afghans, especially women and girls, access to safety, education and livelihood,” she said.

Indeed, Saccardi is correct and Afghani refugees are being used as nothing more than political pawns between Pakistan’s government and the extremist Taliban.

While it is true that the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) is delivering critical aid, encompassing shelter, water, sanitation, essential household items, healthcare, protection, nutrition services, and cash assistance for basic needs, transportation, and food, much more needs to be done.

In response to the escalating crisis, the organization has issued a preliminary request for assistance, hoping to head off any crisis and to prepare for any eventuality. The circumstances are exceptionally difficult for women and girls in Afghanistan, and the coming of winter only heightens the urgency for global aid.

The IOM reports that, after enduring prolonged periods of conflict, instability, and economic turmoil, Afghanistan faces significant challenges in accommodating the influx of returning families. This includes many individuals who have not resided in the country for an extended period, if at all.

“With over six million people already internally displaced throughout the country, Afghans returning from Pakistan face a precarious, uncertain future,” the agency said.

Afghanistan currently has the third-largest number of internally displaced people globally, according to the UN.

Adding to this difficulty are the many refugees who already crossed as well as the nearly three million refugees Pakistan is expected to expel. This humanitarian crisis is only growing larger as Pakistan refuses to back down from its demands and Afghanistan is not capable of handling such an influx of refugees.

The UN and other international organizations must do more to mitigate this crisis, which has the potential to expand into an all-out war between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Afghani refugees will continue to be used as political pawns as they are ethnically cleansed from Pakistan.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.