Taliban brands Pakistan expulsion threat to Afghan immigrants ‘unacceptable’

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan’s threat to forcibly expel illegal Afghan immigrants is “unacceptable”, a spokesman for the Taliban administration in Kabul said on Wednesday, adding that Afghans were not to blame for Pakistan’s security problems.

Estimating that there were 1.73 million Afghan immigrants living in Pakistan without legal status, Pakistan’s caretaker government on Tuesday set a Nov. 1 deadline for them to leave or face forcible expulsion.

“The behavior of Pakistan towards Afghan refugees is unacceptable,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban administration in Kabul, said in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

The move to expel illegal migrants comes as tensions remain high between Islamabad and Kabul. On Wednesday two people were killed, including a 12 year old boy, when pedestrians moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan were fired upon.

The Pakistani military’s public relations wing, the Inter Services Public Relations agency (ISPR) said in a statement that “an Afghan sentry employed at Friend Ship Gate of Chaman Border Crossing along Pakistan-Afghanistan Border in Balochistan Province, opened unprovoked and indiscriminate firing at pedestrians moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan.”

The statement added that Afghan authorities have been approached to inquire “the reason of such an irresponsible and reckless act,” and that ISPR were seeking to have the culprit apprehended and handed over “to Pakistani authorities.”

The Afghanistan government did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

To help justify the crackdown, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti alleged that Afghan nationals had carried out 14 out of 24 suicide bombings in Pakistan this year.

The Taliban spokesman rejected that claim.

“The Pakistani side should reconsider its plan. Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems. As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them,” Mujahid said.

Pakistan’s ultimatum to the immigrants, most of whom have been living in the country for years, came after a meeting of civil and military leaders to review the law and order situation following two suicide bombings on Friday that killed at least 57 people. Bugti said one of the suicide bombers was an Afghan national, and he also accused India’s intelligence agency of involvement.

Relations between the Taliban and the Pakistan government have deteriorated markedly, with border clashes temporarily closing the main trade route between the neighbours last month.

Islamabad alleges that the militants use Afghan soil to train fighters and plan attacks inside Pakistan. The Taliban denies those accusations, saying Pakistan’s security problems are home grown.

A caretaker government was installed in August to guide Pakistan through to elections expected some time in the coming months, and the military has been able to exert more influence as a result of the uncertainty and instability in the country.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Bill Berkrot)