ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Pakistan has ordered all undocumented immigrants, including 1.7 million Afghans, to leave the country by November 1, vowing mass deportations for those who stay.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar approved the plan Tuesday at a high-level meeting of his top civilian and military officials in Islamabad.
'All illegal immigrants residing in Pakistan have until November 1 to return to their countries voluntarily,' Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti told a post-meeting news conference. 'And if they fail to leave by the deadline, all our state law enforcement agencies will unleash an operation with full-throttle to deport them."
Bugti did not share any numbers for undocumented immigrants in Pakistan, but he estimated that more than 1.7 million Afghans are among them.
He said the officials have also decided that Afghans may enter Pakistan only with a valid passport and visa starting November 1.
The 'one document regime' policy will replace the decades-old practice of granting special travel permits to individuals with divided tribes straddling the nearly 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The crackdown on undocumented Afghan immigrants stems from a dramatic surge in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in recent months. Officials say the deadly violence is being directed from militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
'We have come under 24 suicide bomb attacks since January, and 14 of them were carried out by Afghan nationals,' Bugti said. He added that eight of the 11 militants who recently raided two Pakistani military installations in southwestern Baluchistan province were Afghans.
'We have evidence that Afghans were involved in these attacks and are taking up the issue through our foreign ministry with Taliban authorities in Afghanistan,' he said.
FILE - Pakistani security officers examine a damaged vehicle at the site of a roadside bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Sept. 11, 2023.
The minister said the involvement of Afghans in violence against Pakistan showed that 'they are not honoring the edict' of Hibatullah Akhunddza, the supreme leader of the Taliban, that forbids cross-border attacks.
'We hope and respect him greatly and expect his edict to be enforced in letter and spirit,' Bugti said.
Islamabad maintains that leaders and militants of the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, have moved to Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power there two years ago and have stepped up cross-border attacks.
De facto Afghan authorities in Kabul deny allowing the TTP or any other group to threaten other countries, particularly Pakistan, in line with their counterterrorism commitments.
Minister Bugti said that more than 1.4 million Afghans residing in Pakistan as officially designated refugees and 850,000 Afghan citizen card holders are not the target of the deportation campaign.
Pakistan would issue only as many visas as it can manage if would-be Afghan deportees would like to come back to the country, Bugti said.
'We have the capacity, but it is our prerogative to decide how many of them we want to host and how many visas we need to issue,' the minister said while responding to a VOA question.
TTP-led insurgent attacks in Pakistan have killed more than 750 civilians and security forces in the first nine months of 2023, showing more than a 19% increase compared with the previous year, according to Pakistani officials and independent assessments.
The United Nations and global human rights groups have expressed concerns over Pakistani plans to evict illegal Afghan immigrants. They say hundreds of thousands who fled Afghanistan after the hardline Taliban seized power in August 2021 are among those facing deportation.
"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,' Amnesty International said Monday on X, formerly Twitter. 'It is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention.'