Why Is Pakistan scapegoating Afghan refugees?

Afghan families arrive from Pakistan with their belongings to Spin Boldak border crossing, in Kandahar province. – UNHCR
November 18, 2023: The scenes from major crossings along the Durand Line are heart-wrenching.
In videos emerging from Torkham and Chaman – two crossings connecting Pakistan’s western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to eastern and southern Afghanistan – every Afghan speaks of abuse, mistreatment, and plain cruelty by Pakistani police and other government agencies.
Days after the November 1 deadline for “undocumented foreigners” to leave Pakistan passed, more than 200,000 Afghans have been forced to return to a country many of them had never even seen. They will be facing a harsh winter with no planning and no aid in sight.
It is now clear that Pakistanis are not making any real distinction between the 1.7 million Afghans they claim have no documents to remain in the country, and the nearly 2.7 million more who have such documents.
Across Pakistan, the houses of impoverished Afghans are bulldozed to the ground, their business closed, and properties seized. Police, in particular, are having a field day by robbing the Afghans of their possessions and money.
Their returns are part of a decision by the so-called caretaker government on October 3. Appointed by the generals, the puppet government, which lacks constitutional authority to conceive and implement such monumental decisions, claimed that it would improve Pakistan’s precarious security and help its crumbling economy.

Yet none of the explanations offered by Islamabad hold any water. To understand why Islamabad is going ahead with such a brutal and draconian policy, one has to understand its more than four-decades-old strategies. After they allied with the West against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistani generals have been obsessed with annexing Afghanistan through their Islamist proxies.

Yet this policy has only brought misery, pain, war, and extremism both to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has also posed a major regional and global security threat by allowing international terrorism to thrive.
The Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, primarily because of its February 2020 deal with the United States, Pakistani generals have attempted to revitalize their country’s Afghan policy, which is aimed at reducing the Taliban emirate as a subservient client state.
There is a clear method in their madness. Pakistani generals have taken three important new initiatives to exert and strengthen their control on the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which they see as a protectorate, ripe to be absorbed into their realm because of its isolation and vulnerability.
By going after the helpless Afghan refugees, Pakistan is asserting its hegemony over the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Islamabad’s unflinching support paved the way for the Taliban’s victory. The country’s security tzars now want Taliban leaders to show steadfast loyalty and subservience by toeing their line without questioning it.
In Islamabad’s calculation, the return of millions of impoverished Afghans will rapidly deteriorate or even turn the world’s humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan into a catastrophe. According to the United Nations, more than 29 million Afghans need humanitarian assistance as the country remains highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, droughts and climate change.
Some commentators insist that Islamabad wants to merely pressure the Taliban into delivering on its concerns about the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). They conveniently forget that Islamabad allowed thousands of fighters of the group back after talks brokered by the Afghan Taliban last year. Everyone miraculously forgets that TTP’s ideological and personal ties amalgamate the two into one.

So, the natural thing to challenge and change is Pakistan’s Afghan policy, not shadowy dealings with one group or individuals.

The second evidence of Islamabad asserting overlordship over Afghanistan is Islamabad’s tightening its grip over what its landlocked neighbor can import. Last month, the Pakistani Ministry of Commerce issued a list of items that Afghanistan can and cannot import under the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement through Pakistani ports.
This control on Afghan international trade has been ostensibly imposed to stop smuggling through the porous border. Still, it actually formalizes Pakistan’s control over Afghan international trade.
The third and most sinister Pakistani effort to control Afghan lives by denying their country’s sovereignty is the end of “Easement Rights”. Under the arrangements Pakistan inherited from British India, members of many Pashtun/Afghan tribes could freely move within their tribal territories spanning the two countries.

Thus, for nearly 130 years, members of Mamund, Mohmand, Safi, Shinwaris, Mangal, Wazir, Achakzai, Noorzai and other Pashtun tribes have freely moved between communities across the Durand Line. They share families, villages, properties and graveyards in the two countries.

A major sit-in protest that has gone on for weeks in Chaman has protested this move because it amounts to collective punishment and economic genocide of many transborder communities.
The timing chosen to adopt these policies is telling.
Afghanistan currently lacks a legitimately recognized government that could resist these moves or complaints against them internationally. The Taliban’s inability to pursue reconciliation among Afghans and its obsession with implementing draconian policies is unlikely to win international support against Islamabad.
By asserting hegemony over Afghanistan, the generals want to increase their stranglehold over power in Pakistan, too. The country is mired in a deep and multifaceted existential crisis because the generals are obsessed with controlling the civilian governments.
In 2018, they rigged elections to impose Imran Khan as prime minister. But he is now in prison after falling out with top generals. The current army chief, General Asim Munir, is now courting three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to win back the political support the military lost by manipulating politics in the key province of Punjab.
However, given the deepening crisis in Pakistan, both the generals and the politicians have to agree on reviewing and correcting past failures and disasters.
Ditching the failed Afghan policy that has only brought blood, gore, and suffering to the Afghans and Pakistanis can be a good first step.
Machinations to establish hegemony over Afghanistan will only deepen Pakistan’s existential crises.
*Afrasiab Khattak is a former member of the Senate of Pakistan and an analyst of regional affairs. He is also a human rights activist.
Source- https://voicepk.net/, November 17, 2023.
– The views in the article are those of the author. And, the South Asia Times (SAT) is not responsible for any views or analysis in this article.
By Afrasiab Khattak*

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