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Pakistan to launch fresh Afghan deportations

Senior police official in the provincial capital Peshawar says operation targeting 'illegal Afghans' would start after Eid
Afghan refugees deported from Pakistan wait to receive food aid by Red Cross Society in Kandahar on Jan. 24.

Afghan refugees deported from Pakistan wait to receive food aid by Red Cross Society in Kandahar on Jan. 24. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 20, 2024 04:37 AM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2024 04:44 AM GMT

Pakistan will begin a renewed push to deport Afghan migrants from the country next month, officials said on March 19, as border tensions between the two countries escalate.

More than 500,000 Afghans fled Pakistan after Islamabad set a November deadline for undocumented migrants to leave or face arrest, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in January.

Pakistan defended the crackdown by pointing to security concerns and pressure on its struggling economy, but analysts said it was designed to pressure the Taliban government over militancy along its border.

"The military establishment informed us that the second phase of repatriating illegal Afghan immigrants will commence after Eid," a senior government official in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"However, the specifics of this phase are yet to be disclosed."

Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, will be celebrated for several days in the second week of April.

A senior police official based in the provincial capital Peshawar also told AFP that a second phase of an operation targeting "illegal Afghans" would start after Eid.

"Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police have been directed to identify locations where illegal Afghan residents are located," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"However, the federal government has not yet issued specific directives regarding the nature of this operation."

He said police have begun compiling data on Afghan nationals living in the area.

Millions of Afghans have poured into Pakistan in recent decades, fleeing a series of violent conflicts, including an estimated 600,000 since the Taliban government seized power in August 2021 and imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Moniza Kakar, a Karachi-based lawyer representing Afghans living in the country, said: "Afghans are in fear; they don't know what will happen to them."

Air strikes 

Tensions between the neighboring countries have steadily escalated since the Taliban authorities' surge to power.

Islamabad has accused Kabul's Taliban government of harboring militant fighters, allowing them to strike on Pakistani soil with impunity. Kabul has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Pakistan's foreign office said the military carried out air strikes inside the border areas in Khost and Paktika provinces in Afghanistan early March 18 to target militants responsible for recent attacks on its territory.

But Taliban authorities said eight civilians, all women and children, were killed in the bombardment.

Afghanistan's defense ministry said its border forces retaliated by targeting Pakistani military posts along the border with "heavy weapons," with cross-border skirmishes reported by both sides.

The strikes came after seven Pakistani troops were killed in an attack by an armed group inside Pakistan's territory on March 16, for which President Asif Ali Zardari vowed retaliation.

The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, said there had been a "staggering" rise in militant attacks last year with an average of 54 per month -- the most since 2015, when the army launched a massive crackdown on militant groups.

A senior government official based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who asked not to be identified, told AFP that Afghanistan is not taking "seriously" Pakistan's complaints about militants taking shelter in its territory.

Gun battles also regularly erupt over the construction of checkpoints along the disputed border and trade crossings are frequently closed over immigration disagreements.

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