Navigating the Complex Landscape: Understanding Pakistan’s Response to Illegal Immigration



by Dr. Smit Gupta    19 November 2023

In recent times, the global spotlight has turned to Pakistan’s decision to deport illegal immigrants, predominantly Afghan nationals who have sought refuge in the country for decades. The surge in the Afghan population in Pakistan, reaching a staggering 3.7 million, with only 1.3 million officially registered, has propelled the issue of illegal immigration to the forefront of national and international discourse. This article aims to delve deeper into the multifaceted aspects of Pakistan’s decision, exploring its implications and offering insights into the broader context in which this significant policy shift is taking place.

A Tradition of Generosity and Goodwill:

It is paramount to recognize that Pakistan’s decision to deport illegal immigrants is not a targeted assault on Afghan refugees. Instead, it is a pragmatic response to the broader challenge of illegal immigration, a predicament exacerbated by economic constraints, security challenges, and the nation’s limited capacity to manage an escalating number of undocumented residents. Over the past four decades, Pakistan has showcased remarkable generosity in hosting a substantial population of Afghan refugees. This hospitality is deeply ingrained in Pakistan’s cultural and historical ethos, reflecting a commendable act of humanity. However, it is essential to acknowledge that this compassion has not come without its set of challenges.

The Challenge of Hosting a Large Refugee Population:

The inherent challenge of hosting a substantial refugee population, especially when lacking proper documentation, revolves around the potential for illegal activities and security threats. The presence of undocumented immigrants poses a considerable challenge to the safety and well-being of Pakistan and its citizens. This challenge is not unique to Pakistan but is a global concern faced by many nations. In this context, Pakistan, like any sovereign nation, reserves the right to address this issue within the boundaries of international norms and laws. Credible intelligence reports have linked some Afghan citizens to various security concerns within Pakistan, with their alleged involvement in terrorist organizations such as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). Such instances of disobedience to the directives of Afghan commanders raise legitimate concerns for Pakistan’s national security. In 2023, Afghan citizens were reportedly implicated in 58% of terrorist incidents in Pakistan, underscoring the imperative for a robust response to the challenge of illegal immigration. It is crucial to emphasize that Pakistan’s decision to deport illegal immigrants is not arbitrary; rather, it is a measured response to genuine security concerns.

The Changing Landscape in Afghanistan:

Amid improved economic and security conditions in Afghanistan, a compelling case emerges for the return of Afghan citizens to their home country. Many had initially sought refuge in neighboring nations due to the ravages of war, instability, and uncertainty. With peace and stability now achieved in Afghanistan, the continued illegal stay of Afghan citizens in neighboring countries becomes a matter of international concern. It is a global norm that no country universally accommodates illegal immigrants of any status. Pakistan, as a sovereign nation, reserves the right to return illegal immigrants to their home countries. This decision should not be misconstrued as an assault on Afghan or Pashtun communities. Rather, it is a rightful demand in accordance with international norms and laws.

Pakistan’s National Policy and Global Comparisons:

Contrary to misconceptions, Pakistan’s national policy regarding Afghan refugees remains unchanged. The government envisions a phased and time-bound repatriation of all illegal foreigners residing in the country, aligning its approach with global practices. In 2023 alone, countries such as Iran, Turkey, the United States, and India collectively deported over 100,000 Afghan refugees. Pakistan’s stance is consistent with these deportations and should not be perceived as an exception. Pakistan maintains active communication with Afghan authorities, demonstrating commitment to engaging with them on matters of bilateral interest, including facilitating the safe return of illegal Afghan immigrants. In conclusion, Pakistan’s decision to deport illegal immigrants, including a substantial number of Afghan nationals, is a matter of security and practicality. Far from representing a departure from Pakistan’s tradition of providing refuge to those in need, it reflects the country’s growing security concerns and economic challenges.

This decision aligns with international norms and practices, underscoring Pakistan’s determination to protect its citizens and maintain peace and stability within its borders. It is incumbent upon the international community to recognize the legitimacy of Pakistan’s concerns and support its efforts to manage illegal immigration. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s tradition of hospitality and goodwill should be acknowledged and preserved as it navigates the intricate balance between compassion and security in these challenging times.