Pakistan has been a haven for Afghan refugees since millions fled Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, creating one of the world’s largest refugee populations. Additional Afghans have fled since then, including an estimated 100,000 since the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021.
Currently, there are 4.4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, including an estimated 1.7 million who are unregistered, Bugti said. Any Afghans who have registered with Pakistani authorities need not worry about the crackdown, he said.
Some 2.4 million Afghans have refugee status, Bugti said, which allows them to get a government ID card that they can use for everyday activities like banking or registering for school.
After seizing power in 2021, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers announced a pardon for Afghans who had fled and urged them to come back, but most of them are staying in Pakistan or elsewhere in hopes of emigrating to other countries including the United States.
Zahid Hussain, an independent Islamabad-based journalist-turned-analyst, said that although the government has stressed that the crackdown isn’t aimed at Afghans, he believes the policy has been prompted by the involvement of Afghans in recent terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil.
Hussain was skeptical that any campaign to expel undocumented migrants could be successful any time soon.
“It will not be an easy task to accomplish as how can you detain or expel 1.7 million unregistered Afghan people? It is going to further strain ties between the two sides,” he said. “Let us see how the government implements the policy about the expulsion of illegal immigrants.”
The outlawed Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, routinely claim attacks on Pakistani security forces. But they have distanced themselves from a pair of suicide bombings last week that took place hours apart and killed 59 people in southwest and northwest areas bordering Afghanistan. Nobody has claimed responsibility for those attacks.
Afghan officials say that Pakistan’s government is targeting Afghan refugees regardless of whether they have documentation to be in the country.
The Afghan Embassy in Islamabad said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Pakistani counter-terror police have arrested about 1,000 Afghan refugees in the last two weeks, and that about half of them had travel or immigration documents. It urged Pakistan to stop such operations because of their negative impact on the relationship between the two countries.
Pakistani officials have given no details of such arrests in recent weeks, nor of the charges the suspects would have faced.
Raees Khan, 47, another Afghan refugee who said he didn’t feel the need to register with Pakistani authorities, said he has lived in Peshawar since 2007 and has been working in the transportation industry. He said it would take him much longer than a month to wind down his business and move with his wife and five children.
“I have no idea what is going to happen with us after today’s warning by Pakistan. We face forced expulsion,” Khan said. “This deadline should be extended at least for six months so that we can easily return to our country,” he said.