Islamabad is conducting a massive deportation effort directed at Afghans, expelling over 200,000 refugees since the push started this month. And this is just the beginning – Pakistani authorities estimate four million Afghans are living in Pakistan, and some 1.7 million of them are undocumented refugees. The government has warned that anyone staying in the country illegally past November 1 would face arrest and confiscation of assets.
Afghan Taliban furious
The deportation drive, along with reports of refugees being harassed and humiliated, has prompted outrage in Kabul. The Taliban regime urged the Pakistani government to refrain from what they described as acts of cruelty.
"The Pakistani rulers, the current interim government and the military generals should adhere to Islamic principles and prioritize the future and must refrain from mistreating Afghan refugees and confiscating their properties," said the head of the Taliban-appointed government Mohammad Hassan Akhund.
The Taliban have ruled Afghanistan since August 2021. No country in the world, including Pakistan, has so far acknowledged the regime's legitimacy. But the complicated and troubled relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan goes far beyond diplomacy.
In the years following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, several militant groups in Pakistan formed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a local offshoot of the Afghan Taliban. They declared that, since Islamabad sided with Washington, the Pakistani army had become an "apostate force" and fighting against them was justified.
The Pakistani Taliban have since carried out hundreds of attacks. A 2014 attack on an army-run school in Peshawar prompted the Pakistani authorities to launch a massive crackdown against them. Most of the militants took shelter in Afghanistan and continued to hit targets in Pakistan using Afghanistan as their base, though with reduced intensity.
With the Afghan Taliban capturing Kabul in 2021, such attacks have once again grown more common. This month, Pakistan's interim PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said his country witnessed a 60% surge in terror incidents since the Taliban takeover, including a fivefold increase in suicide attacks.
Fear of an open alliance between two Taliban factions
Afghanistan is already going through a severe financial economic crisis with millions of people depending on humanitarian assistance or facing the specter of hunger and starvation. Peshawar-based analyst Dr Faizullah Jan believes that the return of illegal Afghan immigrants on such a large scale is likely to overwhelm the Kabul government.
This would fan anti-Pakistani sentiment among Afghans, he told DW, adding the situation could force the Afghan Taliban to take a tough line on ties with Islamabad.
Dr Noreen Naseer, an academic at Peshawar University, fears that this could prompt the Afghan Taliban to throw blanket support behind the Pakistan-based militants who are already conducting attacks on Pakistan.
Kabul has been accused of covertly supporting the TTP, she told DW. But against the background of the deportation drive and amid growing resentment against Islamabad, Kabul could enter an open pact with its ideological allies, spelling disaster for Pakistan, she added.
The Taliban-appointed defense minister Mullah Yaqoob has already threatened Pakistan of dire consequences, according to Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, an Islamabad-based expert on militancy.
"Pakistan demanded that Kabul prevent TTP from attacking Pakistan using Afghan soil, but the Afghan Taliban failed to stop such attacks," he told DW.
A multi-pronged security challenge
From the perspective of Afghan Taliban, it seems that Pakistan has launched their deportation drive to pressure Kabul into stopping the TTP, he added.
"But there is fear that foot soldiers of Afghan Taliban might join the TTP in their attacks on Pakistan, which could create grave security challenges for Pakistan," Mehsud said.
There are also those who warn that tensions in Pakistan could also inflame the ongoing nationalist insurgency in the western province of Balochistan, with some Afghan nationalist laying claims to parts of the region.
"Secular and nationalist Afghans already don't like Pakistan," says retired Pakistani general Ghulam Mustafa. Now, even the Afghan Taliban are incensed over mass deportations.
He told DW that Pakistan's archrival India could also exploit this situation. "In case of any conflict, Pakistan may face India on the eastern front and a non-friendly government on the western front," according to the retired general.
Edited by: Darko Janjevic