Pakistan's supreme court hears petition against forceful deportation of Afghans born in the country
Pakistani police officers conducts biometric identification of a resident during a search operation against illegal immigrants at a neighbourhood of Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
Munir Ahmed, The Associated Press
Published Friday, December 1, 2023 11:12AM EST
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan's top court opened a hearing Friday on a petition by human rights activists seeking to halt the forceful deportation of Afghans who were born in Pakistan and those who would be at risk if they were returned to Afghanistan.
The deportations are part of a nationwide crackdown by the government in Islamabad that started last month on Afghans who are in Pakistan without papers or proper documentation. Pakistan claims the campaign does not target Afghans specifically, though they make up most of the foreigners in the country.
Pakistan has long hosted about 1.7 million Afghans, most of whom fled during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. In addition, more than half a million people fled Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in August 2021, in the final weeks of U.S. and NATO pullout.
Since Islamabad launched the crackdown in October, giving Afghans until the end of the month to go back or face arrest, hundreds of thousands have returned home, many in Pakistan-organized deportations that followed arrest raids. Human rights activists, U.N. officials and others have denounced Pakistan's policy and urged Islamabad to reconsider.
The petition came a day after an official in the country's southwestern Baluchistan province announced that it's setting a target of 10,000 Afghans who are in the country illegally for police to arrest and deport every day.
Farhatullah Babar, a top human rights defender, told The Associated Press on Friday that he filed the petition because Afghans' basic rights were being violated.
"How can you send those Afghans back to their country when their lives would be at risk there," he said.
Senior lawyer Umar Gilani, representing the petitioners, argued before the Supreme Court that the current interim government in place in Pakistan does not have the authority to introduce such major policy shifts. The government is in place until February elections, and under Pakistani law, it only handles day-to-day matters of state.
The court later Friday asked the government for a response and adjourned the hearing until next week.
Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have also denounced the deportations. Abdul Mutalib Haqqani, a spokesperson for the refugees and repatriation ministry in Kabul, said Thursday that 410,000 Afghan citizens have returned from Pakistan in the past two months.
More than 200,000 have returned to Afghanistan from other countries, including Iran, which is also cracking down on undocumented foreigners, he said.
Pakistan says its crackdown will not affect the estimated 1.4 million Afghans registered as refugees and living in various parts of Pakistan. Many of them have over the years left refugee camps for life in rural or urban areas.
But the petition is unlikely to have any impact on the crackdown, said Mahmood Shah, a security analyst in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
"Let us see how the government side convinces the Supreme Court about this matter," he said.