In New Delhi (India)
The Pakistani government had dreamed of it for more than ten years, and announced it a month ago. On Wednesday, he took action and launched an operation of unprecedented scale against the Afghan community. Objective: to expel men, women and children who have sometimes resided in the country for decades. Mass arrests, synonymous with entire lives reduced to ashes, are increasing.
On October 3, Islamabad warned that Afghans without a valid residence permit had until the 31st to leave the country. After this period, any person present illegally in the territory would be arrested and returned to Afghanistan. There are 1.7 million according to local authorities. In recent days, schools for Afghan children have begun to close their doors. Young girls, in particular, are deprived of education... And, in Afghanistan, the only country in the world to ban education for girls beyond primary school, their future will be reduced to household chores, subject to the dictates of an ultra-repressive regime that grants women no rights or freedoms.
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The Torkham and Chaman border crossings, which separate the two countries, are engulfed in a sea of trucks and vans full of refugees and their luggage piled up pell-mell. Many carry with them stories of the mistreatment inflicted on them by the Pakistani police. “I was arrested at midnight in Punjab province. They took my motorcycle, my ID card and my money before deporting me. I left my house, my family and my whole life there,” one deportee told the Afghan channel Tolo News. In the same report, a man in his fifties burst into tears.
Many Afghans are in hiding. Young girls say they haven't dared to go out to buy food for days, for fear of running into the police. Foreign consulates are overwhelmed with visa applications. Opponents and activists, journalists and other human rights activists know they are in danger of death if they return to the country. For women, these risks are compounded by the prospect of a life behind closed doors.
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Some accuse authorities of only sending away Afghans who cannot pay bribes. “It doesn’t matter whether we have proper documents or not. If you are poor, you are evicted. Afghans who have money can stay in Pakistan,” proclaimed Wahidullah after crossing the border at Torkham.
Often, you have to urgently sell off all your possessions to recover some savings before fleeing. According to the central government, 200,000 people have emigrated over the past two months.
In 2012, the government had already threatened to expel nearly 3 million Afghans. But the project collapsed due to a logistical challenge that Pakistan was unable to meet. This time, Islamabad is determined to go all the way. The authorities announced the opening of 49 detention camps to detain arrested Afghans before their return across the border. “We know where they are. They are in villages, in large cities and small towns. The government knows exactly where they are,” insisted Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti during a press conference on October 26.
These deportations are explained by the growing tensions between Kabul and Islamabad since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. The theocracy repeats that it does not allow any foreign jihadist group to use its territory. Problem: Pakistani security forces are facing an increase in attacks by the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban movement. In the 2010s, the army had gradually eradicated this terrorist organization, created in 2007 to overthrow the parliamentary regime, after several bloody operations in the North-West. But the TTP had retreated to the other side of the border from where it resumed its attacks. The Pak Institute for Peace Studies, a research center based in Islamabad, recorded 473 attacks between August 2021 and April 2023, which left 785 people dead. Figures which have almost doubled compared to the twenty-one months preceding the fall of Kabul.
The TTP's strike force can be explained in particular by the very numerous pieces of equipment, worth several billion dollars, abandoned by the American army during its withdrawal from Afghanistan, including in particular light weapons, vision glasses night and communication systems.
Pakistani emissaries and senior military officials had made numerous trips to Kabul after the departure of the Americans to persuade the Islamist Taliban regime to eradicate the TTP... In vain. The expulsion of the Afghans appears intended to increase pressure on Kabul and persuade the Taliban to follow through on Pakistani demands.
A press release from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan implores neighboring countries “not to deport Afghans without preparations”, calling for “Islamic brotherhood”. The arrival of tens of thousands of families poses a challenge to the Taliban government, which does not have the means to rehouse or give work to those expelled. The Afghan economy is in ruins. The UN General Secretariat indicated in a recent report that 29 million Afghans, or 70% of the population, were in need of emergency humanitarian aid for the current quarter.
Taliban propaganda used the media on Wednesday to try to show that the regime was ready to manage the influx of refugees. The evening news on the Ariana News channel showed the Minister of Refugees, Khalil Rahman Haqqani, throwing flower petals to one of his compatriots who had just crossed the border into Nangarhar province, promising transport and shelter.