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Hosting Afghans a Huge Burden, Pakistani President Says

Voice of America
17 Nov 2023, 04:35 GMT+10

Islamabad - Pakistani President Arif Alvi said his country has carried a huge burden in hosting Afghans for nearly four decades.

In an exclusive interview with VOA Urdu, Alvi defended Islamabad's decision to expel Afghans living in Pakistan without proper documents.

He said giving refuge to citizens of the neighboring country had deeply affected his own country's economy and culture.

"I think that it's a huge burden for Pakistan. We have given refuge to 3.5 million people for 30, 40 years. They are our Afghan, Muslim brothers, and this deeply impacted our economy, our livelihood. Because when all of these people got jobs, Pakistan's workforce is 80 to 100 million, and out of those, 3.5 million are Afghans.'

Pakistan is a country of over 240 million people. While the South Asian nation has struggled financially for years, it has a large undocumented or untaxed economy that Afghans also participate in as business owners, traders and laborers.

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"It is said that the Kalashnikov culture here increased with the presence of Afghans," Alvi said, referring to the mass inflow of weapons into Pakistan in the aftermath of the Soviet war in Afghanistan nearly three decades ago.

Pakistan hosts over 4 million Afghans of which roughly 1.7 million lack legal documents to stay. According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, the country is currently hosting around 1.4 million legally registered Afghan refugees and nearly 900,000 as documented economic migrants.

There is also a sizeable population of Afghans born in Pakistan to parents who fled war or poverty in the last four decades. However, many lack proper documents.

Citing security concerns, Pakistan in early October ordered people of all nationalities residing illegally in the country to leave voluntarily or face a crackdown after November 1. Since then, over 300,000 Afghans have left the country voluntarily, while a small fraction has been deported.

Alvi, who serves a largely ceremonial post, complained that the international community had not provided Pakistan with sufficient support to host one of the world's largest refugee populations.

"The world makes promises to cooperate when refugees arrive, but nobody has given any cooperation," he said.

Since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, nearly 700,000 Afghans arrived in Pakistan seeking refuge. Thousands among them are awaiting resettlement abroad.

In this time, Pakistan has also seen a dramatic rise in terror attacks. Islamabad accuses Afghan Taliban of providing a haven to the banned militant outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, responsible for many of the attacks.

The de facto rulers in Kabul deny the charge and say Pakistan is blaming them for its internal "failure."

FILE - An Afghan refugee girl stands in a camp near the Torkham Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2023. FILE - An Afghan refugee girl stands in a camp near the Torkham Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2023.

Pakistan Extends Stay of 1.4 Million Registered Afghan Refugees

Islamabad also claims that Afghan citizens were involved in 14 out of 24 terror attacks in recent months.

When asked if the push to expel Afghans was a retaliatory move against the Taliban's alleged inaction against cross-border terrorism, Alvi called the two issues a "concurrent problem."

"Pakistan is repeatedly telling the Afghan Taliban to not let infiltration [of terrorists] happen from their side. [That] the anti-state players should not act against us sitting on your side," he said.

Alvi said he did not know why the Taliban have not alleviated Pakistan's concerns but noted that military and diplomatic channels of communication are open.

VOA Urdu's Ali Furqan contributed to this report.

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