Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Imprisonment of Afghan nationals in Karachi increases Kabul-Islamabad tensions

Immigration News

Khaama Press
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Khaama Press is the leading news agency of Afghanistan with over 3 million hits a month.

Author: Noman Hossain, freelance journalist

Refugees from Afghanistan are facing unprecedented challenges in Pakistan, especially after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021. Their numbers have swelled in Pakistan in the last two years as Afghanistan is going through a difficult phase with acute food and medical shortages. With the increase of insecurity in different parts of Pakistan, Afghan men are regularly picked up for interrogations by the state security agencies. Even women and children from Afghanistan are facing incarcerations in Pakistan without proper judicial explanations.

In a recent incident, over 200 Afghan women and underage children have been locked up at the Central Jail Karachi for nearly two months now. While it is reported that they were arrested because of their alleged “illegal” stay in Pakistan, some human rights activists revealed that these women and children were considered a security ‘threat’ by the local police.

Haya Zahid, a Legal Empowerment Practitioner from Karachi, who is looking into the case tweeted on December 10: “Many Afghan women travelled 2 Pak for better medical treatment. Each has around 6-8 children. Despite being locked in a barrack, every time an official visits the children’s eyes light up, they have nothing yet show their generosity in their smiles & hope is alive.”

National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Pakistan is providing legal recourse to the imprisoned Afghan nationals in Karachi. Rabiya Javeri Agha, Chairperson, NCHR, tweeted on December 10: “There are 219 children under 9 years at Central Jail Karachi. @nchrofficial visited the jail with @las_pakistan & @ZahidHaya & will be submitting report to the Govt in this regard. It is heart breaking!” The NCHR officials are trying to safely send back Afghan nationals, who are confined in jails of Karachi, to Afghanistan.

 
The NCHR in collaboration with a local legal firm conducted an on-site visit to Karachi central prison earlier this month and prepared a report detailing the situation. According to the report, of the total 143 interviews conducted, “Women’s Prison and Central Prison in Karachi, 44 per cent were juveniles, 39.8 per cent women and 16 per cent men. Of these an overwhelming majority, 75.5 per cent had arrived in Pakistan in 2022.”

Since Afghanistan is a land-locked country and lacks basic medical facilities, many Afghan women travel to Pakistan regularly for medical treatment whereas adult males look for work opportunities in Pakistan. Most of them also carry their children, who inadvertently become a collateral damage.
 

The deteriorating security situation in Pakistan and growing tensions between the Taliban government and Islamabad over the border issue have further complicated matters for Afghan refugees. The unexplained incarceration of Afghans is not a new development in Pakistan. However, their frequency has increased significantly since the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul. Even women and children are facing inhumane conditions in prisons, facing rape threats, with no justice in sight. While local human rights bodies in Pakistan like NCHR have been highlighting issues of Afghan refugees, the provincial governments and security agencies are simply ignoring their pleas.

More importantly, there has been a very less reporting about the plight of Afghan nationals in Pakistan’s mainstream media. Selected human rights activists, mostly Pashtuns, and media persons are talking about the Karachi case on social media websites. So far, the Sindh government has not taken any cognisance of the matter. A seasoned Pakistani politician, Bushra Gohar, tweeted about the case on December 28 where she indirectly blamed Pakistan’s powerful military establishment for the predicament of Afghan children rotting in Karachi jail. She tweeted, “#AfghanChildren in miserable condition in Karachi jail.  #Sharamnak Photo sessions with Taliban terrorists occupying #Afghanistan & throwing Afghans fleeing terrorism behind bars. #AfghansThrownToTheWolves #ClosedownTalibanProject #AfghanLivesMatter.” Karachi contains the largest concentration of Pashtuns in the world: about four million people.

Many Afghan nationals and Pashtuns from tribal districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa travel to Karachi to earn their livelihoods. However, ethnic tensions in Karachi are rising significantly because of increasing unemployment, domestic politics in Sindh, growing militancy, and countrywide impact of the unstable Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, the Sindh government has found an easy way out of the refugee issue, that is to arrest Afghan nationals and put them behind the bars for violating the Foreigners Act. Last month, several videos were circulated on the social media showing a group of Afghan men and boys, all tied together with rope, being led away by police officers in Karachi. Reacting to the mistreatment of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) released a statement, where it “called on Islamabad to avoid such misconduct and to remain respectful of the rights of refugees.”

It is noteworthy that many Taliban supporters, and even some government officials, have raised this issue regularly, but to no avail. However, this brazen humiliation of Afghans, including underage children and pregnant women, will increase tensions between the two countries. More importantly, the ‘Pashtun’ factor is closely connected to the broader issue of discrimination against Afghan nationals in Pakistan. Targeting of Afghan nationals will also deepen the ethnic divide within Pakistan.

DISCLAIMER – The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Khaama Press News Agency. We welcome opinions and submissions to Khaama Press Opinions– Please email them to info@khaama.com.

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