November 14, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 540

Global Silence As Pakistan Orders Forcible Deportation Of 1.7 Million Afghan Refugees

November 14, 2023 | By Tufail Ahmad*
Pakistan | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 540

The state of Pakistan – which receives regular assistance from the U.S. to help Afghan refugees, with $60 million received in 2022 alone[1] and another $80.2 million reported for 2023[2] – is currently forcibly displacing 1.7 million Afghan refugees, with more than 210,000 Afghans having been deported during the first ten days of November 2023.[3] Pakistani officials are razing refugees' mud homes; Afghan children, women, and madrassa students are picked up by police in night raids and dumped into concentration camps for deportation; Pakistani officials and local goons are confiscating the little property these refugees have accumulated over the past few decades.

It is a human tragedy of colossal proportions not seen since 1947 when millions were displaced and killed as Pakistan was carved out of India. But there is global silence. And silence can be ideological. On November 2, journalist Habib Khan posted a video of Pakistani bulldozers razing the homes of the Afghan refugees along with a tweet: "Pakistani government destroying homes of Afghan refugees. Only if Pakistan were a Jewish state, there would have been a global outcry from anti-Jews Muslims and liberals. Now, it doesn't fit their narrative so who cares about the plight of millions of Afghan refugees?"[4]

In Pakistan, the wind blows in the direction that the army chief, the de facto king of Pakistan, turns his flute. Journalists, politicians, and Islamic clerics, chirrup to the tune set by General Asim Munir, even moreso because he is the first army chief who is a hafiz, one who who has memorized the Quran.[5] Unable to stop the jihadi fighters of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from launching terror attacks from their shelters in Afghanistan into Pakistan, the army chief of the nuclear-powered state decided to punish the refugees instead, setting October 31 as the deadline to quit Pakistan.

Islamic clerics organize mass protests against Israel in every town and city in Pakistan almost on a daily basis, but they are silent on the large-scale displacement of Afghans. Outrage can be religious. Pakistan's leading Islamic religious scholar Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the emir of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), has been visiting Turkey and Qatar, aiming to land in Gaza, while Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan emir Sirajul Haq is visiting Iran, Qatar, and Turkey, with both the Islamic leaders seeking to muster an Islamic strategy in favor of Hamas.[6] "The Muslim Ummah has placed its hopes in [Turkish President Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan. He should step forward and play a role," Sirajul Haq said in a meeting with the leaders of Islamic organizations in Istanbul.[7]

On this tour of Islamic countries, Maulana Fazlur Rehman demanded that the governments permit "the mujahideen to go to Gaza" and wage jihad against Israel.[8] Back home in Pakistan, these influential Islamic clerics and millions of their supporters have observed studied silence on the forced expulsion of Afghan refugees. On November 9, Zahack Tanvir, an Indian Muslim journalist based in Saudi Arabia, posted a picture of Afghan children along with a tweet: "These beautiful kids from Afghanistan have become homeless after Pakistan authorities deported and detained 1.7M Afghan refugees. Imagine if this was done by Jews, Christians, Hindus, or even... Arab countries, there would be a whole different reaction!"[9]

Editors, politicians, and religious scholars portray Afghans as illegal immigrants and as guests. Soon after the October 31 deadline ended, Pakistan's caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti declared that "Pakistan is the biggest country in the world that has hosted the immigrant guests for such a long period. Afghan immigrants are not part of our Plan A now" and that the Afghan refugees will be kept in "holding centers" and subsequently deported "with the will of the state" – where "state" refers to the army chief who decides everything, including the fate of Pakistan's economy, foreign relations, the birthing of test-tube politicians, the re-engineering of political parties, and most recently the appointment of caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar.[10]

The Afghan refugees were not guests, nor illegal aliens as the Pakistani commentariat would have you believe, but cogs in the wheels of "Plan A" to turn Afghanistan into a colony of Pakistan. The Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which reports to the army chief, is the absolute arbiter of domestic politics and foreign relations, especially about Afghanistan and India. After the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban jihadi organization) seized power in Kabul in mid-August 2021, Pakistani editors and analysts were jubilant, viewing Afghanistan as a colony now restored to Pakistan's control.

In September 2021, then ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Faiz Hameed even paid a triumphant visit to Kabul because it was ISI that had financed, sheltered, trained, and steered the Taliban's jihad in Afghanistan – first against the Soviets in the 1980s with U.S. arms and Saudi money, and later against American troops during the decades following 9/11, again with U.S. military aid that was diverted to train the Taliban jihadis. During these two periods of jihad, the Pakistani "military leadership destabilized Afghanistan" and unleashed a "religious frenzy," observes noted historian Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed, displacing about four million Afghans from their homes in Afghanistan to serve Pakistan's interest and forcing them to settle in Pakistan.[11]

Pakistani bulldozers raze the mud homes of Afghan refugees (Image: WION)

Now that the army chief has decided that he can stop TTP jihadi fighters from launching attacks into Pakistan if millions of Afghan refugees are displaced, Pakistan's bulldozers are out demolishing these refugees' homes that are made of what is effectively mud. On Twitter, Pakistani journalists are ecstatic, while Afghan commentators are in pain. Happiness can be partisan.

While the world is silent, an Afghan woman posted a picture of an elderly man along with a tweet capturing the pain and predicament of Afghans being displaced: "This man spent 45 years in Pakistan, he made Pakistan his life with property and a business that he had to sell at a throwaway price. He's now going to Kandahar where he has nothing. He will have to start his life again. I wish the same suffering for Pakistanis!"[12] She tweeted further: "No food, no water, and no shelter. These are third-generation 'Afghan refugees'... and their fathers are seeing Afghanistan for the first time, all because we live in a world where documentation is worth more than our humanity."[13]

The liberal Pakistani newspaper Dawn published a rare report titled "Afghan refugees are leaving — and Pakistanis are enjoying the spoils they leave behind."[14] The report quoted Alamzeb, an Afghan refugee who lived in Quetta for 30 years, as saying: "We never harmed anyone and have worked hard to make a living. However, the persistent pressure from the police has pushed us to leave our home... Initially, they would seek sums in bribes ranging from Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 10,000, but now even that will not do."[15] Alamzeb was forced to sell his shoe business worth Rs 1.5 million for half its market price as the deadline to leave loomed.

"We should be ashamed that when India decided to return Rohingya [Muslim refugees], there was much noise here [in Pakistan saying] that India is discriminating against Muslims... Now our own Muslims who took shelter here and it was because of our politics [i.e., foreign policy] that the economy, the entire system of Afghanistan collapsed, then they came here, and now we are expelling them. We never have had a moral stand," says Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed.[16] Speaking on a YouTube program, the historian reminded Pakistani opinion shapers: "Our military leaders first used to treat them as assets, used to say Afghanistan was ours, that it was strategic depth. Now they are expelling them."[17]

Meanwhile, Pakistani police and security forces are hunting down Afghan refugees in different towns and cities, detaining and harassing them in concentration camps. "Pakistan is not just deporting those without legal papers; they are also targeting people with legal status. Additionally, Pakistani authorities, including the police and army, are mistreating and extorting money from Afghan refugees," an Afghan wrote on the social media network X, formerly Twitter.[18]

Afghans are "staying in their communities, avoiding work and business due to ongoing police harassment. Many are daily wage workers in need of food assistance," wrote a human rights activist who visited an Afghan community in Karachi.[19] In Lahore, an Afghan man said the police arrest and release them after taking bribes of 1,000-2,000 Pakistani rupees.[20] An Afghan who had lived in Pakistan since 1971 and had all the necessary identification documents told a journalist at the Torkham border that they too fled because police were harassing everyone, not just those without documents.[21]

On November 5, a former Afghan parliamentarian tweeted a picture of how Pakistani soldiers were mistreating Afghan refugees: "A little Afghan boy, beaten by a Pakistani officer, face smeared with blood for having sugar, embodies the agony of a people wronged. As Pakistan forces out refugees, remember: from the Amu river to the Abaseen river [in Pakistan], these lands are rightfully Afghan. Generations uprooted, identities questioned, 2M souls deported without a thought to who's truly Afghan. This isn't policy; it's a historical injustice."[22]

Goods, children, and women loaded onto trucks bound for Afghanistan (Image: Money Control)

Pakistan is known for exporting jihad to Afghanistan and the Kashmir region of India. Now having installed the Afghan Taliban jihadi organization, the Islamic Emirate, in the seat of power in Kabul, Pakistan's demands are necessarily strategic. It is not seeking minerals, vegetables, and grains from Afghanistan. And since it cannot extract its demands from the new Taliban rulers, who prioritize Afghanistan's own interest over Pakistan's demands, the Pakistani military is punishing the Afghan refugees instead.

Abdul Haq Hammad, a pro-Afghan Taliban analyst, stated on television program: "People ask, what does Pakistan want from Afghanistan? Pakistan has demands and applies pressure. However, those demands are not granted to them. So, they have chosen another way – expelling all refugees... One of the demands of Pakistan expressed during official meetings, I will share with you,... to stop the Qosh Tepa Canal. They are such abrasive and shameless people...."[23]

The Qosh Tepa Canal is a 185-km canal aimed at diverting water from Amu Darya (i.e., the Oxus River) and is expected to convert 550,000 hectares of desert into agricultural land. While it mainly concerns Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, along Afghanistan's northern border, it does not concern Pakistan, which is far to the south.[24] Abdul Haq Hammad explained how Pakistan's only motive is to keep Afghanistan weak, unstable, and undeveloped, stating: "They have openly demanded that [the Taliban leadership] should stop the Qosh Tepa Canal. Why should we stop it? They say that this is harming us. What kind of harm? When we become self-reliant, we won't be dependent on Pakistan..."[25]

Following are some images of the mass displacement of Afghans ordered by Pakistan:

The mass displacement of Afghan refugees may last a year and more (Image: Firstpost)

Afghan refugees with their luggage bundled in trucks (image:

Former Afghan lawmaker Mariam Solaimankhil shared a video of an Afghan child whoad been beaten by Pakistani soldiers (Image source:

Millions of refugees and Afghans are rendered unsheltered overnight (Image: Insider News)

Over 210,000 Afghans were deported in the first ten days of November (Image: Money Control)

Afghan refugees' mud homes demolished by Pakistani bulldozers (Image: Twitter)

Every day, Pakistan is detaining thousands of Afghan refugees (Image: Dawn)

Afghan refugees were forced to leave everything back in Pakistan (Image: On Demand News)

Afghan women and children uprooted overnight (image:

Afghan refugees waiting near the border for deportation to Afghanistan (Image: AF Journal)

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative.


[1], January 5, 2023.

[2], November 2, 2023.

[3], November 11, 2023.

[4], November 2, 2023.

[7] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), November 10, 2023.

[8] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), November 9, 2023.

[9], November 9, 2023.

[10] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), November 1, 2023.

[11], accessed November 12, 2023.

[12], November 10, 2023.

[13], November 10, 2023.

[14] (Pakistan), November 10, 2023.

[15] (Pakistan), November 10, 2023.

[16], accessed November 12, 2023.

[17], accessed November 12, 2023.

[18], November 2, 2023.

[19], November 9, 2023.

[20], November 8, 2023.

[21], November 5, 2023.

[22], November 5, 2023.

[23], November 10, 2023.

[24], May 24, 2023.

[25], November 10, 2023.

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