‘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
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‘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 greenlights construction of 80-kilometer segment of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

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Pakistan greenlights construction of 80-kilometer segment of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

  • The pipeline will be constructed from Pakistan’s border with Iran to its port city of Gwadar in the first phase
  • The project is likely to boost the country’s energy security, strengthen local industry with enhanced gas supply

KARACHI: Pakistan decided to build an 80-kilometer segment of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline on Friday after the Cabinet Committee on Energy approved the recommendations of a ministerial oversight committee evaluating various dimensions of the project after it was constituted by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar last September.
Originally intended to supply gas from Iran to both Pakistan and neighboring India, the project was referred to as the IPI pipeline. However, India later withdrew from the project over concerns related to pricing and security, leading to the current designation as the IP gas pipeline.
The project remained stalled for a significantly long period since it could potentially create problems for Pakistan due to the international sanctions targeting Iran.
The United States, in particular, expressed opposition to the project, and there had been concerns that Pakistan could face economic sanctions if it proceeded with it.
“The [Cabinet] Committee [on Energy] recommended to start work on the 80 km segment of the pipeline inside Pakistan i.e. from Pakistan border up till Gwadar in the first phase,” said an official statement circulated by the Petroleum Division of Energy Ministry. “The Project will be executed by Inter State Gas Systems (Pvt) Ltd. and will be funded through Gas Infrastructure Development Cess.”
“All the concerned divisions gave a positive nod to move ahead with the project to ensure gas supplies to the people of Pakistan, thereby addressing the increasing energy needs of the country,” the statement added.
The project is expected to boost the country’s energy security and strengthen the local industry that can be assured sustainable and enhanced gas supplies.
The construction of the IP pipeline is also expected to catalyze the economic activity in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province and which can positively impact the national economy.


Pakistan calls for Israeli occupation end, settlement reversal at International Court of Justice

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistan calls for Israeli occupation end, settlement reversal at International Court of Justice

  • The country’s interim law minister tells the court Israel is seeking annexation of Palestinian lands through military action
  • He recalls how France withdrew a million settlers from Alegria in 1962 who were more numerous and better established

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories on Friday at the advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in which several other states have also participated in recent days.
The country’s legal position over the issue was presented by its interim law minister, Ahmed Irfan Aslam, who said the ICJ proceedings inspired hope since it provided the world the opportunity to develop jurisprudence and to advance essential principles of international law that preserved and upheld basic human dignity.
The Pakistani minister noted it had been the United Nations stated position not to condone legal changes to a territory as a result of military action. He reminded the court the UN had also asked Israel to withdraw its forces from from all the territories it had invaded in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War.
However, he maintained Israel’s policy was not just to occupy but annex the Palestinian lands.
“Israel’s occupation is no longer, if it ever was, the military occupation. It is annexation,” the minister said.
“This may have been the intention all along,” he continued. “[Israel’s first] Prime Minister [David] Ben Gurion affirmed in 1950 that ‘the Israeli empire must comprise all the territories between the Nile and the Euphrates.’ And this was to be achieved as much by invasion as by diplomacy.”
Aslam said Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also declared his government would its sovereignty over all the communities formed by moving Jewish settlers to Palestinian lands.
He maintained Israel had created “irreversible facts on the ground” by following its settlement policy to make it as difficult as possible to end its prolonged occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
However, he pointed out the world had dealt with such problems in the past in other contexts while specifically mentioning the French government’s withdrawal of a million settlers from Algeria in 1962.
“France’s settlements in Algeria were not only more numerous they were also far older and better established than Israel’s West Bank colonies,” he continued.
The Pakistani law minister sought the reversal of the policy while saying: “Israel’s occupation is unlawful and unlawfulness must have consequences.”
The ICJ proceedings have come at a point when Israel has been accused of carrying out the genocide of Palestinian people in Gaza.
It besieged the territory and launched airstrikes after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas on Oct. 7 in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
The Palestinian death toll in the war has almost 30,000, with most victims of the conflict being women and children.


Leading VPN brand raises censorship concerns as Pakistan faces fifth Internet restriction in 2024

Updated 23 February 2024
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Leading VPN brand raises censorship concerns as Pakistan faces fifth Internet restriction in 2024

  • Surfshark says Pakistan willing to take any measure ‘to cut citizens off from each other and the rest of the world’
  • It mentions a spike in censorship, saying Pakistan witnessed four Internet restrictions in 2023 and three in 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s recent restriction on social media platform X marks the country’s 5th Internet restriction in 2024 alone, said a leading virtual network (VPN) brand on Friday, raising concerns about growing Internet censorship in the country.
The social networking website has largely remained inaccessible to users in Pakistan for nearly a week since a senior bureaucrat last Saturday accused the country’s chief justice and top election commission official of rigging the controversial February 8 election.
The blockage has raised widespread concerns about democratic expression and media freedom, with the United States and several international organizations urging the government to provide unhindered Internet access to people.
Surfshark, a leading VPN brand, said Pakistan witnessed three restrictions in February that were “directly related to the election, while the remaining two happened in January during virtual events organized by the opposition [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party].”
“These new cases mark a worrying spike in Internet censorship in Pakistan,” it said in a statement. “2024 has only started but has already exceeded both 2023 and 2022 in new restriction count — there were 4 Internet restrictions in 2023 and 3 in 2022.”
It added Surfshark had witnessed an increase in VPN usage in Pakistan since February 18.
“Daily new user acquisition rates have grown three to four times compared to the previous month, indicating a growing reliance on these services for Internet access and privacy,” it added.
The company noted that Pakistan had imposed restrictions on VPNs which could lead to difficulties when connecting to the circumvention tools.
“Pakistan’s Internet censorship efforts have been alarmingly increasing, and 2024 may be a record year for the country regarding Internet restrictions,” Lina Survila, Surfshark spokeswoman, said. “With reports of VPN restrictions coming to light as well, it seems that the country is prepared to take any means necessary to cut its citizens off from each other and the rest of the world.”
Earlier, NetBlocks, an Internet monitor based in the United Kingdom, said that restriction on platform X had entered the sixth day, making Pakistan join “a handful of countries that ban access to international social media platforms.”


Ex-PM Khan’s party says no intention to compromise Pakistan’s economic interests in letter to IMF

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party says no intention to compromise Pakistan’s economic interests in letter to IMF

  • Khan’s legal team said he wanted to write a letter to the international lender, asking it to seek election audit
  • Khan’s party says it cannot damage the country’s economy, recalls developing welfare plans for its people

ISLAMABAD: A top Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader on Friday denied speculations that former prime minister Imran Khan wanted to compromise the country’s economic interests to make political gains in a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying his party would never work against Pakistan.
The statement came a day after an IMF spokesperson told the media that the international lender did not want to comment on political developments in Pakistan in the wake of the general elections earlier this month which Khan’s party said were heavily rigged.
Prior to that, Khan’s legal team said he would send a letter to the IMF, which helped stabilize Pakistan’s economy when it was nearing default, requesting its officials to seek an independent audit of the February 8 national polls.
Pakistan is already under a short-term IMF loan program that is due to expire next month. The newly elected government is expected to negotiate yet another bailout package with the international lending agency in the coming months.
“We will not do anything that poses a threat to the state, causes harm to the state or damages the country’s economy,” Barrister Gohar Khan, PTI’s top leader in Khan’s absence, told a group of journalists in Rawalpindi. “The letter will be shared with you. You can read it.”
“Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has developed projects for the welfare of the people,” he continued. “It brought investment to Pakistan [during its tenure].”
Former PM Khan has faced legal challenges since he was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. He has been in prison after being convicted on corruption and other charges since August last year.
Another high-profile PTI leader, Barrister Ali Zafar, also tried to defend Khan’s decision to write to the IMF, saying Pakistan always came first and foremost for his party.
“We believe that Pakistan should continue to engage with IMF in order to ensure financial discipline, good governance and economic stability which is critical for the prosperity of the people of Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
“While we will continue to support all steps in this direction taken for the benefit of the country and in national interest, PTI will continue its struggle for democracy and raise its voice at all forums and expect the international community’s support,” he added.
According to media reports, Pakistan plans to get a new IMF loan of at least $6 billion, with the talks likely to begin in March or April.


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

Updated 23 February 2024
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.

The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.

The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.

“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”

A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.

“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media. 

“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”