South Asia

Pakistani foreign minister defends decision to expel Afghan immigrants

People waiting to cross the Torkham crossing to Pakistan. File photo

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Jalil Abbas Jilani, on Thursday staunchly defended the government’s recent order mandating the departure of all illegal immigrants, including approximately 1.73 million Afghans.

The decision, announced earlier this week with a November 1 deadline for compliance, has strained relations with Taliban leadership, who have deemed the threat to forcibly expel Afghan migrants as “unacceptable.”

Jalil Abbas Jilani, serving as a minister in Pakistan’s caretaker government, made these remarks during an interview with Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV on the sidelines of a forum in Tibet. He emphasized that no country permits illegal immigrants to reside within their borders, regardless of whether it is in Europe or in neighboring Asian countries. Jilani argued that Pakistan’s decision aligns with international norms and practices.

Pakistan has provided refuge to those fleeing the conflict in Afghanistan since the 1970s. Pakistan’s interior minister revealed earlier this week that approximately 1.73 million Afghans in Pakistan lack legal documentation, and the total number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan stands at 4.4 million.

To justify the expulsion decision, Pakistani authorities cited that 14 out of 24 suicide bombings this year were attributed to Afghan nationals. However, a Taliban spokesperson refuted this claim.

“People would immigrate to Pakistan, take refuge in Pakistan whenever there was any problem,” Jilani acknowledged. “But now I think it has been more than 40 years, so the government of Pakistan has taken a decision,” he added, noting the improved stability in Afghanistan.

Reports indicate that at least 600,000 Afghans migrated to Pakistan since August 2021 when the former government fell to the Taliban.

While Pakistan had long viewed the Taliban as its preferred option in neighboring Afghanistan, relations have deteriorated over the past few years, primarily due to Pakistani allegations that Islamist militants operating against the Pakistani state are based in Afghan territory. The Taliban have consistently denied these allegations.

Jilani revealed that Pakistan had engaged in discussions about the migrant issue with Afghanistan for an extended period and called upon international humanitarian agencies to contribute to the process.

Humanitarian aid organizations warn that Afghanistan is already grappling with a severe humanitarian crisis, and the forced repatriation of a large number of people would exacerbate these dire challenges.