‘Without hope’: Crackdown rattles Afghans in Pakistan

In this photo taken on September 21, 2023, Afghan women walk through an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2023

‘Without hope’: Crackdown rattles Afghans in Pakistan

  • At least 700 Afghans have been arrested since early September in Karachi alone and hundreds more in the other cities
  • People accuse police of extorting money and ignoring legal documents, while pointing to anti-Afghan sentiment in Pakistan

KARACHI: The cow had been slaughtered and bags of rice purchased but young bride Wahida’s nuptials were cut short when her groom was arrested on their wedding day, one of hundreds caught in a recent crackdown on Afghans living in Pakistan.
The 20-year-old now lives with her in-laws at the Afghan MuHajjir aid camp in the port mega-city of Karachi but without her husband-to-be, a registered refugee.
“We are without hope,” the groom’s mother, Safar Gul, told AFP. “The police took away our son. What can we do, they have the power.”
Faizur Rehman, 22, was arrested “just because he was Afghan,” another relative named Zulaikha said.
Afghans have poured into Pakistan in their millions during decades of successive wars, many living in aid camps with restricted access to education, health care and employment.

In this photo taken on September 21, 2023, an Afghan shopkeeper waits for customers at his shop at an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi. (AFP)

Around 1.3 million are registered refugees and 880,000 more have legal status to remain in Pakistan, according to the latest United Nations figures.
Police and politicians have said a recent round-up targets only those without legal status and is in response to rising crime and poor regulation of immigration that is straining resources.
At least 700 Afghans have been arrested since early September in Karachi alone — 10 times more than in August — and hundreds more in the other cities, according to official police figures.
Afghans say the arrests have been indiscriminate.
They accuse police of extorting money and ignoring legal documents, while pointing to rising anti-Afghan sentiment as prolonged economic hardship burdens Pakistani households and tensions rise between Islamabad and Kabul’s new Taliban government.

In this photo taken on September 21, 2023, Afghan children pose for photos at an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi. (AFP)

“We have been working day and night getting people released,” said Habibur Rehman, who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s during Soviet rule but now represents the Afghan government’s refugee ministry at the camp.
“There have been crackdowns every three, four years, but this time has been the worst.”
An estimated 600,000 Afghans have arrived since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021 and imposed their austere version of sharia or Islamic law.
Lawyers have said the police operation has been complicated by registration cards for vast numbers of documented Afghans expiring at the end of June, although their status remains in place until the government rules on their renewal.
Naqibullah, who lives in a rudimentary house in the camp, said he and his father handed over 46,000 rupees ($160) to avoid jail after they were picked up by police, despite being documented refugees with permission to legally remain in Pakistan.

In this photo taken on September 21, 2023, Afghan girls read the Qur'an at an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi. (AFP)

They were advised to keep a low profile to avoid re-arrest and stay away from the kiosk they run outside the camp.
“Leaving our business behind is never an easy decision but the fear is so overwhelming that I can’t even venture out to the market. We have no choice but to remain at home,” he said.
Pakistani lawyer Moniza Kakar said she can do little for Afghans who do not have documents, and that those recently deported include the sick and poor, as well as human rights defenders and women students.
More than 1,800 Afghans were deported from Karachi last year, city police said, and nearly 1,700 have been arrested so far in 2023.
But Kakar, along with the several other lawyers giving free legal help to Afghans, said the vast majority in this sweep are documented, compared to roughly a quarter rounded up in past crackdowns.
“Our action is purely aimed at illegal immigrants,” Karachi police chief Khadim Rind told AFP, adding that allegations of arrests of legal document holders and bribe-taking should be investigated.

In this photo taken on September 21, 2023, Karachi police chief Khadim Hussain Rind speaks during an interview with AFP in Karachi. (AFP)

Afghan consul general Syed Abdul Jabbar said Afghans in Pakistan were paying the price for disputes between Kabul and Islamabad.
Relations have soured since the Taliban government seized power, with a sharp rise in militant attacks along Pakistan’s border that Islamabad alleges are being planned on Afghan soil — a charge Kabul denies.
A long-running border dispute has also seen key trade crossings closed for days.
But these issues should be “sorted out at the negotiating table,” Jabber said. “A crackdown on Afghans is the wrong approach.”

In this photo taken on September 21, 2023, Consulate general of Afghanistan Syed Abdul Jabbar talks with AFP during an interview in Karachi. (AFP)

The pressure has seen some families sell what they can and return to Afghanistan, refugee community leaders said. Others were reluctant to uproot their lives to return to a country mired in its own economic crisis, despite the end of decades of fighting.
Day laborer Habib has been a refugee in Pakistan for more than half his life but says he lost his documentation several years ago.
“I have lived with more freedom here than in our own country,” the 76-year-old told AFP.
“We don’t have documents and we are afraid they will give us trouble, but we are obeying the law,” he said. “If they don’t forcefully kick us out, we won’t go to Afghanistan.”

Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage

Updated 15 April 2024

Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage

  • The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to Child Marriage Act over gender-based distinction
  • The court asks the Punjab government to issue a revised version of 1929 law in 15 days, based on its judgment

LAHORE: A high court in Pakistan on Monday struck down a section of the Child Marriage Act, 1929 that dealt with gender-based age distinction and ordered the government in the Punjab province to revise the legislation.

The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to the Child Marriage Act over apparent distinction on the basis of gender. The petitioner had stated in his petition that the Constitution of Pakistan granted equal rights to men and women.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) declared as “discriminatory” the 95-year-old act’s Section 2(a) and (b), which respectively fixed 18 and 16 years as legal ages for boys and girls for marriage. 

“In sum, the words in section 2(a) viz . ‘if a male ….and if a female is under sixteen years of age’ being unconstitutional are held to be without lawful authority and of no legal effect. They are struck down,” Judge Shahid Karim wrote in his five-page verdict.

“The Govt. of Punjab (its relevant department) is directed to issue the revised version of 1929 Act (based on this judgment) within the next fifteen days and shall also upload that version on its website for information.”

Though the aforementioned law had been replaced by the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015 to criminalize child marriage in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

Women in Pakistan are often deprived of their basic rights and forced to marry against their will, in some cases even before reaching the legal age for marriage.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), about 500 women are killed each year by their family members over accusations that their “honor” has been violated, which are often triggered when women marry by choice.

The court observed there was a need to take effective steps against child marriages as the marriage laws in the country were meant to primarily keep in view the “social, economic and educational factors rather than religious.”

In his verdict, the judge referred to Article 25 of the constitution, which says: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.”

“The definition of ‘child’ in the 1929 Act while making a distinction on the basis of age, is not based on an intelligible criteria having nexus with the object of the law,” the court ruled.

“The definition is indeed a special provision for the protection of women but in the process it tends to afford greater protection to males by keeping their age of marriage higher than females.”

Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill

Updated 15 April 2024

Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill

  • Pakistan lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs
  • The country is currently faced with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday directed the Pakistani energy ministry to maximize utilization of renewable energy resources in order to reduce the country’s oil import bill, Pakistani state media reported.

The remarks came at a meeting he presided over to review the country’s power sector, according to a report published by the Radio Pakistan broadcaster.

The prime minister said that oil imports worth billions of dollars could be controlled by using alternative resources like solar, wind and hydel power.

“The country currently imports oil worth 27 billion dollars to meet its power and transportation needs,” Sharif was quoted as saying in the report.

“In the future, only clean and low-cost hydropower and renewable plants will be installed in the country.”

Pakistan, which has been struggling with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation, lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs.

The South Asian country is currently looking to secure cheaper energy imports and alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation.

The prime minister asked authorities to speed up efforts for foreign investment in solar energy projects as well as to accelerate the process of privatization of power generation companies and auction of inefficient power houses.

He lauded the performance of the Punjab government in the ongoing drive against power theft and expressed hope that other provinces would also follow suit to overcome the challenge.

“All possible measures are being taken to reduce the per unit price of electricity for the common man,” PM Sharif added.

Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 

Updated 15 April 2024

Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb arrived in the US on Sunday to participate in spring meetings of the IMF, World Bank
  • Pakistan is in need of external financing to shore up forex reserves to escape another macroeconomic crisis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Monday met with a delegation from the US-Pakistan Business Council (USPBC) in Washington D.C. and discussed with them his government’s commitment to improving business climate in Pakistan.

Aurangzeb arrived in Washington D.C. on Sunday to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, amid Islamabad’s efforts to reach an agreement with the IMF for a new loan program by June this year.

The South Asian country of more than 240 million people remains in desperate need of external financing to shore up its foreign exchange reserves and escape yet another macroeconomic crisis after it barely averted a default last year, thanks to a $3 billion IMF program.

In order to overcome the present economic woes, Islamabad has been making efforts to attract foreign direct investment to keep the $350 billion economy afloat.

“During the meeting, the Finance Minister highlighted the government’s dedication to attracting both foreign and domestic investments in key sectors,” Aurangzeb’s ministry said in a statement. “These sectors include agriculture, IT, mines & minerals, and energy.”

Pakistan's Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue, Muhammad Aurangzeb (5L), meets with a delegation from the US Pakistan Business Council in Washington, US, on April 15, 2024. (Pakistan Finance Ministry)

The statement came days after Aurangzeb met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with IMF and World Bank officials.

“He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit,” the Pakistani finance ministry said. “The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting.”

Pakistan this month completed a final review of its current $3 billion IMF deal that cleared the way for the disbursement of a final tranche of nearly $1.1 billion. The South Asian country is now looking for another bailout program.

Last week, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA).

The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. She, however, noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by Pakistani authorities.

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

Updated 15 April 2024

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

  • Prince Faisal accorded red-carpet welcome at Nur Khan air base, received by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar
  • Former diplomats, analysts say visit shows further deepening of relations between two brotherly countries

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Pakistan today, Monday, on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation, with local media widely showing footage of the Saudi official being received by Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar.

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion that was previously discussed.

Upon his arrival at the Noor Khan air base in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, the Saudi foreign minister, who is leading a high-level delegation comprising several top ministers, was accorded a red-carpet welcome by Pakistani officials.

“A week after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia (April 6-8), a high-level delegation of Saudi Arabia is coming to Pakistan,” the Pakistani information ministry said in a statement shared with journalists.

“The Saudi delegation will consult on the next stages of investment and implementation issues,” the statement added, saying Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would also be discussed during the visit.

Pakistan's foreign minister Ishaq Dar (right) receives his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan (left), at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on April 15, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan, the statement said.

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”

The Pakistani foreign office said last week the Saudi delegation would comprise the foreign minister, minister of water and agriculture, minister of industry and mineral resources and deputy minister of investment as well as senior officials from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi Fund for General Investments.

The Saudi delegation is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and other ministers, as well as the army chief and members of the apex committee of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

The Saudi government has not yet commented on the agenda of the visit.

Former diplomats and analysts said the visit showed further deepening of relations between the two brotherly countries.

“This is a high-powered Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister and it is purely focused on investments in Pakistan,” Javed Hafeez, a former Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News, pointing to a recent indication by Saudi Arabia to expedite $5 billion investment in Pakistan.

“This delegation will also be exploring different fields and options during the visit to materialize the investment pledges as quickly as possible.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, termed the visit “very significant,” saying the potential Saudi investment in Pakistan was a “welcoming step” in the Saudi-Pakistan friendship.

“The Saudi’s investments under the banner of the SIFC will be safe and secure, and this will help further deepen the ties between the two countries,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expired this month.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally.

“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms,” Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.

“We are taxing our people, we are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have increasingly moved toward investing rather than extending direct financial aid.

Pakistan says probe suggests India behind Lahore death of suspect in killing of Indian spy

Updated 15 April 2024

Pakistan says probe suggests India behind Lahore death of suspect in killing of Indian spy

  • Alleged Indian spy Sarabjit Singh died at a prison in Pakistan's Lahore city in 2013 after inmates attacked him
  • Islamabad has previously accused Indian intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said on Monday that an investigation had suggested India was behind the death of a Pakistani man, who was suspected of killing alleged Indian spy Sarabjit Singh in 2013.

Amir Tamba was shot dead inside his home in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday. He was a suspect in the death of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national who was convicted of spying in Pakistan and handed a death sentence in 1991.

Singh died in 2013 after inmates attacked him in a Lahore prison. His killing stoked tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Tamba was accused of being involved in Singh’s death but was not convicted.

Asked about possible Indian involvement in Tamba’s killing, Naqvi told reporters that India had been directly involved in a few killings inside Pakistan and police were suspecting Indian involvement in Tamba’s murder too.

“Right now, the evidence is pointing to them [India],” the minister said. “It is not ideal to say anything until the investigation is completed, but [the killing] has the same pattern.”

Islamabad has previously accused India’s intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan, saying it had credible evidence linking two Indian agents to the deaths of two Pakistanis last year.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a report this month, saying the Indian government had killed about 20 people in Pakistan since 2020 as part of a broader plan to eliminate militants residing on foreign soil. Pakistan denies harboring militants.

Last year, both the United States and Canada accused Indian agents of links to assassination plots on their soil. India dismissed the allegation of its involvement in the killing in Canada as “absurd.”

In the case involving the US, India’s foreign ministry said it had set up a high-level committee to investigate the accusations, adding that the alleged link to an Indian official was “a matter of concern” and “against government policy.”