NIAS Pakistan Weekly

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NIAS Pakistan Weekly
Pakistan repatriates Afghani “Illegal Aliens”

  PR Team

PR Short Note
23 days left for “Illegal aliens” to “voluntarily” flee Pakistan
By Femy Francis

On 7 October, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) issued a joint statement extending their support for registering Afghan nationals in Pakistan. They issued: “provide support in developing a comprehensive and sustainable mechanism to register and manage Afghan nationals, including those who may require international protection.” They appealed that Pakistan should continue to protect all assailable who have sought refuge in Pakistan and would face risk upon returning. It is estimated that there are 1.3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan out of which 880,000 are legal refugees. Additionally, Pakistan has sought the Taliban-governed Afghan government to establish a sub-consulate in Chaman, Balochistan a strategic city situated near Afghanistan and Pakistan border. They want to establish mechanisms to issue on-arrival visas for the returning refugees. The devasting earthquake in Afghanistan has further aggravated the concerns. A systemic expulsion of Afghan nationals both documented and undocumented has been encouraged, with tenants indiscriminately evicting them and rounding them at police stations. There have been complaints heard that individuals are using the vulnerable condition of Afghan nationals to extort bribes in turn for safety.

Repatriation of “illegal” Afghan Nationals in Pakistan
Caretaker Interim Minister Sarfraz Bugti announced till 1 November for the voluntary return of illegal Afghan nationals from Pakistan after which law enforcement will kickstart the deportation process. This comes after the apex court meeting on the National Action Plan at the Prime Minister’s House chaired by the interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, attended by COAS Asim Munir and federal ministers amongst others present. They discussed the security issues grappling Pakistan and the need for the withdrawal of “illegal aliens” from the country by formalizing border movement activities. Additionally, they planned a crackdown against trade and property accusations of the “aliens”. There are plans to establish three camps in Chaman, to hold undocumented migrants before they are deported back. Bugti stressed that the government's priority lies in the “welfare and security of a Pakistani are most important for us over any country or its policy. The first decision taken is about our illegal immigrants who are living in Pakistan through illegal means,” counting the days Interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi announced that there are 28 days left for them to leave.  Furthermore, Bugti informed that e-tazkiras would be only valid till 31 October after which they can only stay with official visa and passport documents. The frenzy saw a new level of paranoia when he also announced that the government would use DNA testing to weed out Afghans holding illegal Pakistani identity cards.

 

Hike in terrorist activities in Pakistan
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has found an exponential rise in terrorist activities. It is reckoned that there were 24 suicide attacks since January 2023 out of which 14 bombings were claimed by Afghan-based terrorist organizations. The Pakistani government and military have accused the Taliban administration of its inability to curb terrorist activities and providing a safe haven, launching pad for terrorists to attack Pakistan. A report by Pak Institute for Peace Studies titled ‘Pakistan’s Afghan Perspective and Policy Options’ found that the most affected regions are Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan infiltrated by terror and militant organizations like Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan and Balochistan Liberation Army, has seen a surge in terror activities to 92 and 81 per cent.

Responses
While the detainment is claimed largely to be against the illegal settlers, contrarily the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad claims that the arrest has been indiscriminate with thousands detained out of which half are legal refugees. UNHCR spokesperson Qaisar Afridi said: “Pakistan has remained a generous refugee host for decades. This role has been acknowledged globally but more needs to be done to match its generosity,” Amnesty International of South Asia posted: “Many Afghans living in fear of persecution by the Taliban had fled to Pakistan, where they have been subjected to waves of arbitrary detentions, arrests, and the threat of deportation. It is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention.” A former senator Afrasiab Khattak warned against government plans of treating Afghan refugees as “vanquished people” and that they are sowing seeds of “intense hatred” that will further “breed animosity” reaped by generation of Afghans refugees, essentially being detrimental to Afghan-Pakistan relations. Social Worker Menna Gabeen highlighted the violent repercussions of such actions would be faced by the most vulnerable Hazara community, who have historically faced targeted violence by the Taliban. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman opposed the discriminatory treatment against Afghans stating that this would create bitterness with Afghanistan and that they should give the war-torn country more time to settle. He criticized that while the aim is to repatriate “illegal aliens”, they are only targeting the Pashtun community, “Are Pashtuns the only illegal aliens in the country.” Interim Information Minister of Balochistan Jan Achakzai informed that the repatriation action was the country’s step towards becoming a “normal state.” Urging that several foreign companies and countries want to invest in Pakistan and are hesitant about the security risks in the country. He said: “We have to turn ourselves into a normal state. And for that, we need to secure our borders, as no normal state can afford to have porous borders.” Interim Minister Murtaza Solangi stated that the country cannot survive with soft borders.

References
“Govt sets deadline of Nov 1 for illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan,” Dawn, 3 October 2023
Aleezeh Fatimah, “Concern over move to expel ‘illegal’ Afghans,” Dawn, 4 October 2023
Iftikhar A. Khan, “Terror attacks increased in Pakistan after Taliban takeover of Afghanistan: report,” Dawn, 1 June 2023
Saleem Shahid, “Pakistan seeks Kabul’s consulate in Chaman to ease visa process,” Dawn, 9 October 2023
Amin Ahmed, Manzoor Ali, “Pakistan must consider risks to returning Afghans, say UN agencies,” Dawn, 8 October 2023
“UN agencies ‘stand ready to support Pakistan in registering, managing Afghan refugees,” Dawn, 7 October 2023
“Turned away,” Dawn, 9 October 2023
Political leaders, parties felicitate new CJP,” The Express Tribune, 18 September 2023


PR Short Note
LHC strikes down federal government notification on sugar price fixing as “ultra vires”
By Femy Francis

On 5 October, The Lahore High Court (LHC) dismissed the federal government's order over the fixing of sugar prices and reinstated that the authority lies with the provincial government in this case of Punjab. The decision was held by a two-bench judges consisting of Justice Shahid Karim and Justice Sultan Tanvir Ahmad hearing the petition by Sugar Mills against the federal government’s interference. They questioned the jurisdiction of the government to determine the price ceiling for the province of Punjab. Deputy Attorney General Asad Ali Bajwa cited Article 151 to support the government’s role in determining the sugar prices stating that the power resides with the parliament as they intended to establish a uniform price for all the provinces. While the presiding Judge Karim clarified that Article 151 did not award parliament of any such mandate. Advocate General Samia Khalid put forth that the province of Punjab has the capacity and the competence to determine and fix the prices of all necessities and conferred that the interference of the governments lies outside their jurisdiction.

The Judgement
They observed that the 1977 Act only outlines on price control and that it allots no authority to the parliament to determine the price of essential goods which lies exclusively under the province’s jurisdiction. The parliament’s power is regulating inter-province relations in trade and commerce and not regulating internal decisions. The judgement highlighted that the provincial government are better positioned to decide on price fixation as they are aware of the various circumstance of the said province and would be able to consider all factors required before making a judgement. Justice Karim also noted that the price fixation for essential commodities need not be uniform across all provinces and not fix a price if not needed. They ruled the government cannot allocate the price without regarding that some provinces do not require the ceiling. The bench ruled that under the 1977 act, the parliament's power to control prices of essential goods and commodities and the prevention of profiteering and hoarding is “ultra vires” meaning beyond their powers. Additionally, they struck down the notification by the federal government under the Price Control and Prevention of Profiteering and Hoarding Order 2022.

References
Wajih Ahmad Sheikh, “Provinces empowered to fix sugar price, LHC rules,” Dawn, 6 October 2023
“LHC directs Punjab govt to fix sugar price,” The News International, 6 October 2023

 

 


PR Short Note
Pakistan's debt reached PKR 64 trillion
By Femy Francis
On 6 October, the State Bank of Pakistan released a report stating the government’s debt has hiked to PKR 64 trillion a PKR 14.5 trillion increase estimating a 29.2 per cent rise within just one year. The rising debt and the fiscal loss incurred have exposed the country to various vulnerabilities as heightened by a report by the World Bank. Within the past two years the country has seen a mounting budget deficit and the World Bank expressed their concerns that their shortcoming in reaching the budget has led to the accumulation of debts, scaring away potential private investments. The SBP reported that there has been a volatile increase in external debt reaching PKR 24.2 trillion a 39 per cent hike. This hike in external debt was attributed to the devaluation of the Pakistani currency. It is estimated that PKR 17.4 trillion external debts stand since 2022, excluding IMF liabilities. There has been a sharp decline in the value of Pakistani currency against the dollar as it stands at PKR 305.6 against one dollar presently. The currency marked a devaluation of 40 per cent in just one year. While the recent efforts to curb smuggling and hoarding by the army have led to some recovery in the value of PKR. The World Bank estimates that of all the public debts of Pakistan, external debt accounts for 40.9 per cent and short-term debt accounts for 13. 7 per cent. The rising domestic debt creates concerns as it absorbs most of the tax revenue and in turn, reduces funds for the development and economic growth needs. A major chunk of the revenue now is used to pay for services that are releasing interest payments and debt.  While the government had been consistently paying off debts there has been a dip or rather an absence of inflows and funds since the IMF loan and funding by UAE and Saudi Arabia.

References
Shahbaz Rana, “Government debt soars to Rs64 trillion,” The Express Tribune, 6 October 2023
Shahid Iqbal, “Weak rupee drives up external debt,” Dawn, 6 October 2023


PR Short Note
Pakistan’s Afghan Refugees: The government’s plan to push back
By Shamini Velayutham

On 3 October, all unauthorized immigrants, including a disproportionately large number of Afghans, were given an ultimatum by the federal apex committee to leave by 31 October or risk being imprisoned and deported. This was a follow-up to the recommendations made on 27 September by the top committee of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Federal and provincialgovernments are scrambling to put together a workable plan to carry out what could become as one of the most substantial eviction operations in the modern era as the target date to repatriate over a million undocumented Afghans and other foreigners.

Harsh response from Kabul
On 4 October, with more than half of the Afghan community living in KP, the short deadline has alarmed the entire Afghan community across Pakistan. Zabihullah Mujahid, the top spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, expressed his outrage at the decision by calling Pakistan's "behavior" against Afghan refugees "unacceptable" and urging Islamabad to rethink its course of action. He apprised Pakistan should allow them since Afghan refugees are not to blame for Pakistan's security issues. Pakistan ought to accept them as long as they depart of their own volition. Meanwhile, as a result of ongoing disputes between the two countries, two Pakistani nationals were killed by the Afghan border force at the Chaman border crossing without provocation. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), an Afghan sentry working at the Friendship Gate of Chaman border crossing, which is located along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the Balochistan province, opened fire on pedestrians crossing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan without provocation or warning.

Internal Responses: For and against the eviction
Dawn referring to an official wrote that the issue of returning Afghan refugees to their country has long been a priority, especially following the December 2014 release of the National Action Plan (NAP). Plans were developed, and tactics were solidified, but no real attempt was made to create a feasible logistical plan supported by human and financial resources. During a press conference at the Quetta Press Club, Jan Achakzai, the interim minister for information in Balochistan declared that the Afghan refugees had just 27 days left to exit the country. He cautioned that if the eviction order were not followed after the deadline had passed, severe action would be taken. He said that no international pressure would be tolerated in this regard and also claimed that Afghan refugees had harmed the nation and added that after the departure of the refugees, crime will decline. On the contrary, an editorial in the Dawn “Targeting Afghans,” expressed that it is impossible to wish the Afghans gone. They are woven into the social fabric of the area, therefore a sympathetic, long-term solution to their suffering must be discovered. They will only plant the seeds of future strife if Pakistan abandon them in a hurry.

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan
There are 2.18 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This includes the 1.3 million refugees who now possess Proof of Registration (POR) cards, as determined by the 2006 to 2007 census, as well as the extra 880,000 refugees who received Afghan Citizens Cards (ACCs) in 2017 as a result of a registration push in 2017. According to Pakistan’s government estimates, a new wave of 600,000 to 800,000 Afghans entered Pakistan after the collapse of the Afghan Republic and the re-emergence of the Afghan Taliban in August 2021. Some of these people are from Afghanistan and had legitimate visas but are currently staying. Monitoring the issues in Islamabad, a senior official informed Dawn over the phone, Unknown numbers of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan fall somewhere between the three aforementioned categories. He said that "from a security, social, and economic standpoint, this is a serious concern."

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