The sudden withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, without reaching an appropriate political settlement with the Taliban, has created precarious conditions for Pakistan and other states in the region.
The internal instability within Afghanistan, stemming from the presence of various ethnicities, exacerbates external vulnerabilities.
Given its contiguous border with Afghanistan, Pakistan recognizes the urgent need for a stable Taliban government to maintain regional peace in South Asia. However, concurrently, the decision by Washington to freeze the Afghan central bank’s U.S. holdings, amounting to $3.5 billion, has worsened acute food insecurity in the state.
Additionally, the Taliban government faces accusations of being an exclusive regime, contributing to the humanitarian crises within the state.
Furthermore, the recent decision by Pakistan’s interim government to deport illegal Afghans living in the country after October 31 has become highly controversial. Given the humanitarian crises and unstable economic conditions in the neighboring country, the massive influx of almost 1.7 million people into Afghanistan will heighten security concerns for Pakistan.
The past policy failures, which failed to curb the illegal entrance of refugees from across the border, cannot be corrected in this manner. Moreover, Pakistan should take into account that Afghanistan is still reeling from the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Herat.
In response to this decision, an Afghan spokesperson remarked, “As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them.”
Considering all these factors, being rigid with the decision instead of attempting negotiations with the receiving state could significantly damage the soft image of Pakistan. There is no doubt that illegal residents should be evacuated from the state’s territory, but this goal can be achieved through a pragmatic approach without neglecting the imperative of maintaining peace.
Another dimension overlooked by the state is the damage inflicted on the local business market, which is predominantly operated by many Afghans. For instance, a significant number of Afghans are involved in the scrap dealing business, and Pakistani scrap dealers are now experiencing substantial losses due to the outflux of these Afghan partners.
In the course of my discussion with some Pakistani businessmen, it became evident to me that the deportation of illegal Afghans in this manner would be detrimental to their local businesses. At a time when the economy is burgeoning and nearly half of the population is striving to meet its basic needs, the state cannot afford such a sudden and massive blow to domestic business.
Instead of abruptly expelling illegal residents, a more strategic approach to repatriating them to Afghanistan could involve several key steps.
Firstly, imposing restrictions on the free movement of illegal residents within and through the state could serve as a pivotal measure to address the country’s security concerns. This step not only aligns with the fundamental reasons prompting Islamabad’s decision but also facilitates the identification of more illegal residents through stringent checks.
Instead of demolishing their residences, those residential compounds can be used as refugee camps to closely monitor their activities and it will also help in ensuring that all the illegal residents have been taken in those camps and out of the state’s territory. To provide for refugees in these camps, Islamabad should coordinate with UNHCR as both the bodies have worked on this issue in past.
Engaging in diplomatic negotiations with the recipient state becomes imperative, acknowledging the interdependence between security concerns on both sides. Presenting policy recommendations and ensuring cooperation from Islamabad’s side can help avoid bilateral conflicts. Negotiating the deadline for evacuation is crucial, coupled with a commitment to maintaining secure conditions in refugee camps until the recipient state receives its citizens.
In addition, as a goodwill gesture, Islamabad could offer illegal Afghan citizens the option to return to Pakistan under a regulated process. Visas could be issued after coordination with the Taliban regime, allowing them to reside legally as citizens of Afghanistan.
Following the implementation of these measures, a strict enforcement mechanism should be in place on both sides to deter any future violations of such orders, ensuring that states do not encounter this problem again.
Islamabad should make every effort to convince the UN to play a significant role in resolving this issue, as it extends beyond bilateral relations. The sudden massive influx of almost 1.7 million people could fuel terrorist threats in Afghanistan.
This is evident, given that many states have accused the Taliban regime of providing land to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. In such a situation, how can internal instability not contribute to a power vacuum that would greatly favor these terrorist organizations? The international community has already witnessed the atrocities committed by these organizations, and turning a blind eye to this issue could lead to unpredictable results.
Furthermore, considering the current economic, socio-political, and security conditions within Pakistan, undertaking such a risk in its neighboring state is not a viable option.
Opting for a more appropriate solution would be a prudent choice for Pakistan in every aspect. However, it appears that this decision has been made without foreseeing the potential outcomes for both states and regional peace.
On the other hand, Kabul should also cooperate, given that their citizens have been in Pakistan for over four decades. Pakistan welcomed them and granted them almost every right, treating them like its own citizens.
This 40-year history can potentially conclude with a positive turn, serving as a hopeful path forward to establish strong ties between Islamabad and Kabul. Such collaboration is not just the need of one state; instead, it is in the best interest of the national interests of both countries to foster good Pak-Afghan relations.
*The author is a final year student of Defence and Diplomatic Studies at Fatima Jinnah Women University.
**The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility for the content of this article.