ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government’s crackdown on undocumented migrants and mass deportations to Afghanistan risk radicalizing those who have been forced out of the country — often returning to deplorable conditions back home, analysts and experts said Thursday.
More than 250,000 Afghans have left Pakistan in recent weeks as the government rounded up, arrested and kicked out foreign nationals without papers. The drive mostly affects Afghans who make up the majority of foreigners living in Pakistan, although authorities say that all who are in the country illegally are targeted.
Thousands are crossing the border every day into Afghanistan with few or no belongings, enduring harsh conditions until they are relocated within a country they left to seek a better life.
The mistreatment could lead to their radicalization by fueling hatred for Pakistan, said Zahid Hussain, an analyst of militancy and author of several books, including “Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam.”
There should have been an agreement between Islamabad and the Taliban-led government in Kabul to avoid a backlash, added Hussain. Instead, Pakistan is detaining and crowding Afghans in holding centers.
“It creates hate … and some of them can be radicalized against Pakistan when they return home,” Hussain told The Associated Press.
The forced expulsions will further strain relations between the two sides, and a new “wave of hate” arising from the deportations will be the result of the government’s flawed policy, he added.
“Do you think those who are being forced to go back to Afghanistan are happy?” Hussain asked rhetorically. “They are not happy, they will carry hate against Pakistan for a long time.”
Pakistan should reconsider the crackdown while there is still time to rectify the damage, he urged. “Policies should be corrected before things go out of control.”
Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said that an increase in violence in Pakistan is one reason for the deportations.
Since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021, attacks have surged on Pakistani security forces and civilians. Most have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, a separate militant group but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban.
Kakar and the government in Islamabad accuse the Taliban of harboring militants from groups like the TTP — allegations thet the Taliban deny.
The Taliban-appointed defense minister in Kabul, Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid, warned last week that Pakistan will reap what it sows.
The Pakistani Taliban are on the offensive, they are trying to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghans and there is a chance that some Afghans will become part of the group and take part in violence against Pakistan, said Abdullah Khan, the managing director at the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
Pakistan has long hosted about 1.7 million Afghans, most of whom fled during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. In addition, more than half a million people fled Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in the final weeks of U.S. and NATO pullout.
Khan said many Afghans had been living in Pakistan for decades — as if it were their own country.
If the returns were inevitable, they should at least have been given enough time to wind up their businesses, cancel their children’s school admissions and give notice to their employers before heading to Afghanistan, he said.
“I have a feeling that there will be more attacks by the TTP across the country, and we should not be surprised if it happens,” Khan added.
U.N. agencies and aid groups have said many of those who fled Pakistan to avoid arrest and deportation have little or no connection to Afghanistan. Many who have gone back lack water, food and shelter once they cross the border.
Some face additional barriers to integration because they don’t speak the local Afghan languages, Pashto and Dari, having learned English or Urdu while living in Pakistan.
Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and best-selling author who has written about Pakistan and Afghanistan for more than two decades, said the expulsions can only benefit extremists.
“They (Afghans) feel victimized and bullied by Pakistan,” Rashid said. “The policy will increase tensions between the Taliban and Pakistan, with militant groups looking to exploit the situation.”
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.