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Foreign Ministers Discuss Regional Challenges

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Interim Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani held a crucial meeting with his Afghan counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in Tibet. The meeting, which took place during Jilani’s two-day visit to China, was focused on addressing the complex challenges affecting regional peace and stability.

Jilani was in China to participate in the third Trans-Himalayan Forum for International Cooperation, hosted in Nyingchi, Tibet Autonomous Region, from October 4-5. This forum, established in 2018, has a primary goal of fostering increased collaboration among regional nations. The areas of focus include geographical connectivity, environmental preservation, ecological conservation, and the strengthening of cultural bonds.

During their meeting, Foreign Minister Jilani reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to strengthening its bilateral relations with Afghanistan. He emphasized the importance of addressing the shared challenges to regional peace and stability through collective strategies and a spirit of collaboration.

This meeting comes in the wake of a recent announcement by Pakistan, giving an ultimatum to undocumented immigrants, including Afghan nationals, to leave the country by October 31 or face the risk of imprisonment and deportation to their respective nations. The decision was made during an apex committee meeting, led by Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, with the participation of key officials, including the army chief.

As a part of this decision, the movement across the border is now subject to passports and visas, with electronic Afghan identity cards (e-tazkiras) being accepted only until October 31. Following the deadline’s expiration, authorities plan to initiate an operation targeting illegal properties and businesses owned or operated in collaboration with Pakistani nationals.

The Afghan Taliban has expressed its disapproval of this policy, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid deeming it “unacceptable” and urging authorities to reconsider. The situation has already had dire consequences, with a recent incident at the Pak-Afghan Chaman Border in Balochistan resulting in casualties when an Afghan sentry opened fire on pedestrians.

To clarify the ongoing operation against illegal immigrants, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch stated in a weekly press briefing that it is not aimed at any particular nationality. Instead, it focuses on repatriating individuals who have either overstayed their visas or lack valid documents to remain in Pakistan. She emphasized that Pakistan’s actions align with its sovereign domestic laws and have no bearing on the 1.4 million Afghan refugees that the country has generously hosted for decades, despite its economic constraints.

Baloch reiterated Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to the safe and dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees, highlighting that this matter is separate and is being actively discussed with Afghanistan to create the right conditions for their return.

As the deadline for the departure of illegal immigrants looms, authorities at federal and provincial levels are diligently working on a comprehensive plan to execute one of the most significant deportation operations in recent history. The tight deadline has led to uncertainty within the Afghan community residing in Pakistan, a large portion of which is located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Officials involved in the process admit that quantifying the number of illegal immigrants in Pakistan is a challenging task, with estimates being the only available data. The UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has documented 2.18 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, comprising those with Proof of Registration (POR) cards and Afghan Citizens Cards (ACCs). The collapse of the Afghan Republic in 2021 led to an influx of approximately 600,000 to 800,000 Afghans, some of whom had valid visas but have since overstayed.

In addition to these categories, there exists an unspecified number of undocumented immigrants from Afghanistan, possibly numbering in the millions. The presence of this large undocumented population poses both security and socio-economic challenges.

While repatriating Afghan refugees has been discussed for years, significant progress has been limited. The current urgency has prompted authorities to recognize the need for a well-structured plan that addresses logistical, human, and financial requirements. Accurate data collection and mapping of the undocumented immigrant population are ongoing challenges.

Pakistan, not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 protocol, is committed to the well-being of refugees holding POR and ACCs. However, the presence of undocumented immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans who fled after the Afghan Republic’s collapse, raises national security concerns.

Many of these recent arrivals possess valid visas or are seeking asylum in third countries, but the lengthy process of registration and screening has created uncertainties for their future status. The UNHCR and relevant authorities are working to address these challenges.

The meeting between Interim Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani and Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi underscores the importance of diplomatic dialogue in addressing regional challenges. The ongoing operation against illegal immigrants in Pakistan is being executed without targeting any particular nationality, with a commitment to ensuring the safe and dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees. As Pakistan navigates this complex issue, a comprehensive plan is being developed to address the presence of undocumented immigrants and promote regional stability.

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