Afghan refugees in Pakistan say strained Kabul-Islamabad ties, policy shift hurting them 

This photo, taken on February 23, 2023, shows Afghan women wearing burqas waiting to cross into Pakistan at the Torkham border crossing in Khyber district, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 February 2023

Afghan refugees in Pakistan say strained Kabul-Islamabad ties, policy shift hurting them 

  • More than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees live in Pakistan for more than four decades
  • The Taliban takeover of Kabul forced thousands more to enter Pakistan without documents

KARACHI: It took Gul Bano, a former Afghan policewoman, and her family days of walking and sleepless nights under the open sky before they reached the southern Pakistani city of Karachi from Kabul in February last year. For her, the 51-year-old says, even recalling the woes of the month-long journey from her home country is “very painful.”

Bano is one of thousands of Afghans who illegally crossed the border to seek refuge in Pakistan after the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021, following the withdrawal of United States and allied forces from Afghanistan. 

Only a few hundred Afghans were able to get themselves registered with the UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in the process, while many still await their ‘Proof of Registration’ (PoR) cards that grant them the refugee status in Pakistan. 

However, as relations between the new Taliban administration and Pakistan sour, mainly due to the former’s unwillingness to take action against the Pakistani Taliban, or the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistani authorities have launched a crackdown on Afghan nationals, who illegally entered Pakistan.

The last few months saw Pakistani authorities throwing hundreds of Afghan nationals behind the bars due to the status of their residency.

“It took a month for us to reach Karachi after walking for days and spending several nights near the border,” Bano told Arab News last week, wandering in a Karachi suburb seeking some money to feed her family of nine, including a widowed daughter and two grandchildren. 

“I have served in the police for nine years. Many like me have gone missing. I cannot return to [Afghanistan], be disappeared or killed.”

Gul Bano, 51, a former Afghan policewoman, gestures for a photograph during an interview with Arab News in Karachi, Pakistan on February 24, 2023. (AN Photo)

Pakistan first opened its borders to Afghan refugees in the 1980s after the beginning of a US-sponsored and Pakistan-backed ‘Afghan jihad’ to counter the so-called expansionist designs of the former Soviet Union, becoming the largest refugee-hosting country in the world.

According to the UNHCR, more than 4.4 million Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland since 2002 under a UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation program, but around 1.4 million still live in refugee camps, villages and urban centers across Pakistan. 

Mehmood Jan Babar, an expert on Afghan Affairs, said Pakistan had been the most generous host till 9/11, when the US began its ‘War on Terror.’ 

“Pakistan started taking steps like shortening the duration of stay of Afghan refugees, when the hostile government of Dr. Ashraf Ghani would take steps that would go against Pakistan,” Babar told Arab News.

“The Pakistani society has never been against refugees, but we instead have been seeing ‘Sanction Pakistan’ Twitter trends initiated from Afghanistan.”

Afghan refugees even used health and other facilities in Pakistan that were meant for locals only, he said. 

Abdul Sayed, an independent scholar on jihadism, politics and security in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, says the Pakistani state’s policy pertaining to Afghan refugees changed with changing narratives of successive governments in Islamabad. Pakistani governments had been using the issue to achieve strategic goals, he added. 

“The government of Pakistan welcomed Afghan refugees for Pakistan’s national interests and also getting foreign aid,” Sayed told Arab News.

“After the withdrawal of the Russian forces from Afghanistan, the policy changed and the world has since witnessed ups and downs in policy [relating to] refugees, with ups and down in ties between [different] regimes in Islamabad and Kabul. This situation persists even after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.” 

Hosting Afghan refugees had boosted strategic importance of Pakistan in the international politics and helped Islamabad get international financial support, Sayed added.

Mubeen Ahmedzai, 48, who sells roasted corn on a pushcart in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth neighborhood, often worries about the strained ties between the two neighbors that directly affect him. 

“The attitude of police and locals [has] changed,” he said, when asked if he had observed any difference lately.

At a news conference in December, Sharjeel Memon, information minister of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province where most of illegal Afghans refugees have been arrested, said the government apprehended only those Afghan nationals who did not have legal documents. 

“If a person lives illegally in any country, the government takes action and deals with them according to the law,” Memon had said.

Moniza Kakar, a lawyer who campaigns for the release of Afghan nationals, said the change in policy had not only impacted those who had come to seek asylum or medical help, but also the ones with PoR cards. 

“Of those [Afghans] arrested recently, at least 400 had PoR cards or valid documents issued by the UNHCR,” she said, adding that even Pakistani Pashtuns, who share the same language and traditions as Afghans, had to face harassment by authorities as a result of the latest crackdown. 

Another Afghan national, Ahmed Rasheed, left his home country shortly after the fall of Kabul in August 2021.

Living in a Karachi suburb, Rasheed was registered by the UNHCR which means he cannot be deported, but the document handed to him was not enough for him to get a job to feed seven members of his family. He said he had left Afghanistan for the sake of pursuing his children’s education. 

“Education, [which was] the foremost [requirement] has now become secondary as I am struggling to bring [home] two meals,” the 45-year-old said. 

“If ties between governments are turning good or bad, it has nothing to do with refugees. But they are not good [and] the immigrants have to bear the brunt.”

Rasheed lamented that everyone had rights, but “my human rights have gone missing.”

Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the UNHCR-Pakistan, said Afghans who fled to Pakistan in search of safety post-August 2021 were not able to regularize their stay, exposing them to risks of arrest, deportation and homelessness alongside lack of support to cover basic needs.

“We urge countries neighboring Afghanistan, including Pakistan, to continue to protect those seeking safety, as they have done for many decades,” Afridi told Arab News.

“As a country facing its own challenges, particularly since the devastating impact of the floods, Pakistan’s generosity must be matched with international responsibility-sharing by the wider world.”

Citing the Pakistani government, Afridi said some 600,000 Afghans had arrived in Pakistan since January 2021, however, the overall number of Afghan nationals with international protection needs was likely to be much higher.

This photo taken on February 24, 2023, shows a local market, Al-Asif Square, mostly populated with Afghan refugees, on the outskirts of Karachi. (AN Photo)

“Since 2021, UNHCR has been in discussions with the government on measures and mechanisms to support vulnerable Afghans. Regrettably, no progress has been made,” he added. 

“UNHCR stands ready to work in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan to identify Afghans in need of protection and to seek solutions to their plight.”

Pakistan to seek at least $6 billion in new IMF Loan program

Updated 19 sec ago

Pakistan to seek at least $6 billion in new IMF Loan program

  • Country to negotiate an Extended Fund Facility, with talks with IMF expected to start in March or April
  • Pakistan averted default last summer thanks to a short-term International Monetary Fund bailout

Pakistan plans to seek a new loan of at least $6 billion from the International Monetary Fund to help the incoming government repay billions in debt due this year, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday, citing a Pakistani official.

The country will seek to negotiate an Extended Fund Facility with the IMF, the report said, adding that the talks with the global lender were expected to start in March or April.

Pakistan averted default last summer thanks to a short-term International Monetary Fund bailout, but the program expires next month and a new government will have to negotiate a long-term arrangement to keep the $350 billion economy stable.

Ahead of the bailout, the South Asian nation had to undertake a slew of measures demanded by the IMF, including revising its budget, a hike in its benchmark interest rate, and increases in electricity and natural gas prices.

The IMF staff continues a dialogue with authorities on needed longer-term reform efforts, a spokesperson for the fund said, adding that the fund is available, if requested, to support the post-election government through a new arrangement to address Pakistan’s ongoing challenges.

Pakistan’s caretaker finance minister did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the Bloomberg report.

Pakistan’s vulnerable external position means that securing financing from multilateral and bilateral partners will be one of the most urgent issues facing the next government, ratings agency Fitch said on Monday.

“A new deal is key to the country’s credit profile, and we assume one will be achieved within a few months, but an extended negotiation or failure to secure it would increase external liquidity stress and raise the probability of default,” it said.

Pakistan’s leading car assembler announces Rs3 billion investment in localization of parts

Updated 14 min 17 sec ago

Pakistan’s leading car assembler announces Rs3 billion investment in localization of parts

  • Indus Motor’s investment aims to reduce company’s reliance on imports, support local auto industry
  • Pakistan’s auto sector has faced challenges due to slowing economic growth, high inflation and interest rates

KARACHI: Pakistan’s leading car assembler, Indus Motor Company (IMC), announced this week it would invest Rs3 billion ($10.7 million) to increase domestic production of parts and components of its Toyota-brand vehicles.

The investment plan aims to reduce the company’s reliance on imports and support the local auto industry, the joint venture between Toyota Motor Corporation and House of Habib said. 

“We are pleased to announce that the board of directors, in its meeting held on 21 February 2024, has approved an investment of around Rs3 billion to be made by the company for additional localization of parts and components of various existing vehicles,” the company said in a statement to the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) on Thursday, adding that the move would allow the company “to reduce outflow of foreign exchange and promote the local auto industry.”

“The announced investment shall be made toward expenditure in plant and machinery, molds, dies, equipment and related expenses for localization of parts and components to be manufactured locally for various existing vehicles.”

The planned investment will be completed by the third quarter of the calendar year 2025. 

Indus Motor has been increasing the localization of parts and components for its vehicles, which include popular models of the Corolla. Last year, the company launched its first hybrid electric vehicle, the Corolla Cross, which it said was 50 percent localized.

Pakistan’s auto sector has faced challenges, particularly since last year, due to slowing economic growth and high inflation and interest rates, which have dampened the demand for cars. The sector has also been hit by the depreciation of the rupee against the US dollar, which has spiked the cost of imports and forced automakers to significantly raise prices.

Pakistan can save $10 billion yearly through agri exports to Gulf states, China — army

Updated 23 February 2024

Pakistan can save $10 billion yearly through agri exports to Gulf states, China — army

  • Third annual Dairy Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Advance Technology Cattle Show kicks off in Karachi 
  • Show aims to highlight investment opportunities and technology in dairy, livestock, agriculture, and fisheries sectors 

KARACHI: Pakistan can save $10 billion per year through import substitution in the agriculture sector and exporting commodities to Gulf states and China, a senior military official said on Thursday at the inauguration ceremony of the third annual cattle show in Karachi.

The Dairy Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Advance Technology (DALFA) Cattle Show is held each year to highlight investment opportunities and advanced technology in the dairy, livestock, agriculture, and fisheries sectors of Pakistan.

Major General Shahid Nazir, Director General of Strategic Projects of the Pakistan Army, said the country imported more than $10 billion worth of agricultural products, calling for the production of exportable surplus to earn much needed foreign exchange.

“Pakistan can save about $10 billion per year through import substitution in the agriculture sector and exporting commodities to Gulf states and China,” Nazir told reporters after the inauguration of the cattle show.

A handler stands next to cattle at the Dairy Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Advance Technology (DALFA) cattle show in Karachi, Pakistan on February 22, 2024

He said the recently launched Green Pakistan Initiative, a joint effort between the Pakistan government and the army, would help improve the country’s agricultural development and grant unutilized lands to farmers to produce better yields using advanced technology. 

“Under the initiative advanced technology will be incorporated and the actual potential of Pakistan’s agriculture sector will be explored to achieve self-reliance,” Nazir said.

“We are facing the big challenge of foreign exchange and so there are two ways to earn the foreign exchange by saving $10 billion plus which are being spent on the import of agriculture products.”

He said collaborations in the agriculture sector had already started with Gulf countries.

Cattle displayed at the Dairy Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Advance Technology (DALFA) cattle show in Karachi, Pakistan on February 22, 2024

“We have cultivated wheat on about 100,000 acres of land and are preparing for cotton and sunflower. In Sindh [province], for the first time, more than 4 million bales have been produced,” Nazir said. 

A new Special Investment Facilitation Council was set up in July last year to serve as a “one window operation” for foreign investors, with a special focus on attracting funds from Gulf nations. The initiative is a collaboration between the Pakistan army and government, with military officials including the arm chief holding key positions. 

Newly elected MPs to take oath today at legislative assembly in Pakistan’s key Punjab province 

Updated 23 February 2024

Newly elected MPs to take oath today at legislative assembly in Pakistan’s key Punjab province 

  • Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N emerged as largest party in Punjab Assembly in elections held earlier this month
  • Imran Khan and his PTI party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging

LAHORE: Newly elected representatives from Pakistan’s most politically important province of Punjab will take oath today, Friday, at the provincial legislative assembly’s inaugural session, as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced protests outside the building against what it calls the ‘rigging’ of Feb. 8 general elections.

An agreement to form a coalition government between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif late Tuesday night ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive Feb. 8 election produced a hung national assembly. 

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, together make a simple majority to form a government, though the two parties will also rope in smaller parties in the coalition. Independent candidates backed by Imran Khan won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging.

“Those Tehreek-e-Insaf candidates who won the Punjab Provincial Assembly election but have been defeated due to the forgery of Form 47 should protest peacefully in front of the Punjab Provincial Assembly tomorrow at 10 am along with supporters,” Hammad Azhar, PTI’s general secretary for central Punjab, said on X. “Everyone should join this protest.”

A party requires 186 members to form the government in Punjab. The PML-N won the greatest number of seats in the province, 137, has been joined by about two dozen independent members and is also likely to bag a significant number of reserved seats for women and minorities which are allocated based on the number of seats won in polls. 

Outgoing Punjab Assembly spea­ker, Sibtain Khan, will administer the oath to the members of the new assembly. The session will then be prorogued to be summoned anew for the election of the new speaker and deputy speaker of the house, to be followed by the election of the leader of the house, that is the chief minister.

The Punjab Assembly is the largest elected house in the country, with 371 seats, comprising 297 general seats and 74 reserved seats, including 66 for women and eight for minorities.

The province of more than 127 million people, over half of Pakistan’s population, is known as the country’s most heated battleground, contributing 173 of the 326 seats in Pakistan’s Parliament and is the heartland of the nation’s political, military and industrial elite.

Historically, the party that secures a stronghold in Punjab often manages to form the government at the center. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif, is poised to make history as the first woman chief minister of a Pakistani province. The PML-N’s candidate for prime minister is Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother.

Pakistan to present legal position on Israeli policies in Palestine at ICJ hearing today

Updated 23 February 2024

Pakistan to present legal position on Israeli policies in Palestine at ICJ hearing today

  • Case is on ‘Legal Consequences arising from Policies and Practices of Israel in Occupied Palestinian Territory”
  • Palestinian representatives on Monday accused Israel of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will present its legal position today, Friday, at ongoing advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice on the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said. 

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is holding the public hearings from February 19-26 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the Court. 

“Tomorrow [Friday] evening, Minister for Law and Justice, Ahmed Irfan Aslam, will present Pakistan’s position at the ongoing advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice in the case on ‘Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’,” the foreign office said.

“The proceedings stem from a December 2022 request by the United Nations General Assembly for an advisory opinion by the Court on the legal consequences of Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

During the course of Monday’s three-hour session at the court, seven representatives for the Palestinians said Israel’s rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was illegal, and accused the country of a litany of crimes, including colonialism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide.

Similar accusations were leveled against Israel by the South African delegation in court on Tuesday.

Jerusalem’s stance is that the ICJ advisory opinion sought by the UN General Assembly is illegitimate since numerous UN resolutions as well as bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreements have established that the correct framework for resolving the conflict should be political, not legal.

Israel has not sent a delegation to the ongoing proceedings.