‘I consider myself Pakistani’: Settled Afghans forced to flee amid Pakistan’s deportation deadline

‘I consider myself Pakistani’: Settled Afghans forced to flee amid Pakistan’s deportation deadline
Afghan refugees wait in a queue to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham on October 27, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2023
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‘I consider myself Pakistani’: Settled Afghans forced to flee amid Pakistan’s deportation deadline

‘I consider myself Pakistani’: Settled Afghans forced to flee amid Pakistan’s deportation deadline
  • Islamabad has asked 1.7 million Afghans it says are living in the country illegally to leave by November 1
  • Government has set up holding centers to keep illegal immigrants before sending them to their countries

TORKHAM: Maroza Bibi and her children are among hundreds of Afghans waiting at the Pakistani border, hurriedly leaving a country she has called home for decades in fear of arrest.

Islamabad has issued an order to 1.7 million Afghans it says are living in the country illegally to leave by November 1, or be deported.

A series of holding centers are being established across the country in preparation for the Wednesday deadline in what rights groups and lawyers say is an unprecedented crackdown.

“I am taking a lot of good memories. I was expecting Pakistan to give us nationality, but that did not happen, compelling us to go back almost empty-handed,” Bibi, 52, told AFP at the Torkham crossing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday.

She was around 10 years old when her family fled the Soviet war in Afghanistan, settling in Kashmir where she raised a family and where her husband is buried.

Millions of Afghans have crossed the border during decades of conflict, making Pakistan the host of one of the world’s largest refugee populations.

But relations have steadily soured between the two countries since the Taliban government seized power in August 2021 and imposed their austere version of Islamic law.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are estimated to have crossed the border since then.

Pakistan has said the deportations are to protect the “welfare and security” of the country, where anti-Afghan sentiment has been growing amid prolonged economic hardship and a rise in cross-border militancy.

Although the deadline to leave is still days away, police have already begun raiding communities and detaining Afghans, with lawyers reporting indiscriminate arrests and extortion.

Zulfiqar Khan was born to refugee parents in a sprawling Peshawar aid camp, where generations of Afghans have settled in semi-permanent homes.

Like many others AFP spoke with, he knew little about the documentation process and believed he would eventually be granted Pakistani nationality.

“To avoid any humiliation by the Pakistani authorities I have decided to leave,” he told AFP at the border.

“I am leaving Pakistan with a heavy heart and a state of acute mental stress. I have no idea about life in Afghanistan, I know nothing about any possibility of re-starting my business there.”

On Friday, hundreds of families carrying bundles of belongings crowded the border post waiting to cross, some hoping to convince officials to let them take live chickens with them.

“Women at the border are facing a lot of problems, especially the pregnant women and people with disabilities, you can see they are waiting for their turn for hours,” Hakeem Ullah, a border official, told AFP.

More than 2,000 people are being processed each day, authorities have said, although most are laborers and traders who cross frequently back and forth.

About 60,000 Afghans have “voluntarily” left the country through the border in recent weeks, Feroz Jamal, a spokesman for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, told AFP.

Around 1.3 million Afghans are registered refugees and 880,000 more have legal status to remain in Pakistan, according to the United Nations.

Islamabad says a further 1.7 million Afghans are in Pakistan illegally.

“Everyone is frightened of arrest and deportation,” Fazal Ahmed, a 40-year-old fruit vendor who came to Pakistan when he was four years old, told AFP at a Karachi aid camp on Thursday.

“I consider myself Pakistani as I have never been back to Afghanistan, but now we are counting down the days in fear.”

Afghans will only be allowed to cross the border with limited belongings and 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($178), and they must leave their livestock behind.

“Our money is stuck here. All our lifetime earnings and savings are stranded here. We have established businesses here, but they don’t care,” said Karachi camp resident Khan Mohammad, pleading for authorities to give Afghans more time to leave.

Afghanistan is struggling through its own economic hardship, cut off from the international banking system and heavily reliant on humanitarian aid, particularly as the bitter cold winter months set in.


Pakistan’s opposition, led by ex-PM Khan’s PTI, launches nationwide anti-government campaign

Pakistan’s opposition, led by ex-PM Khan’s PTI, launches nationwide anti-government campaign
Updated 13 April 2024
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Pakistan’s opposition, led by ex-PM Khan’s PTI, launches nationwide anti-government campaign

Pakistan’s opposition, led by ex-PM Khan’s PTI, launches nationwide anti-government campaign
  • The six-party alliance announced protest after claiming the February 8 general elections were heavily rigged
  • Balochistan’s administration has prohibited public processions, rallies by imposing Section 144 in Pishin

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s opposition alliance is all set to launch a nationwide anti-government drive with a political rally in Pishin, Balochistan, on Saturday after accusing the federal government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, of being the product of rigging and vote manipulation following the February 8 general elections.
The six opposition parties joined hands after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of jailed ex-premier Imran Khan brought together Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP), Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) to oust the government by building public pressure against it.
The PTI has frequently claimed it won 180 National Assembly seats in the last national polls, but its mandate was undermined after the authorities changed the election results to declare the victory of its rival factions. The party formed its government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after the elections, but it rejected the results in the center and the rest of the three provinces.
During a meeting of the opposition alliance in Quetta on Friday night, the strategy for launching the protest movement and today’s public meeting was decided.
“Our protest will continue until the peoples’ mandate is restored in PTI’s favor,” Omar Ayub, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, said while speaking to the media after political consultations.
Ayub told his social media followers on Saturday the provincial government was preventing PTI vehicles from reaching the rally venue.
“[Balochistan] government stopping vehicles with PTI flags from going to Pishin to participate in the Jalsa [rally] of Tehreek e Tahafoz e Aien e Pakistan [Movement for the Protection of Pakistan’s Constitution],” he said in his post. “They tried to stop our convoy, but we [pushed] through. Enroute to the Jalsa venue.”


Meanwhile, the provincial authorities have imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in Pishin district, prohibiting a gathering of more than five people along with closure of highways.
“The Government of Balochistan Home & Tribal Affairs Department, in exercise of powers conferred under Sub-Section (6) of Section 144 Cr.P.C 1898, has imposed ban on blockade of national/main highways, roads, red zones including processions, rallies and gathering of five (05) or more than five persons/sit-ins across the Province Balochistan with immediate effect till further orders,” it said in a notification.


Pakistan announces joint inquiry after viral videos show soldiers allegedly beating police officers

Pakistan announces joint inquiry after viral videos show soldiers allegedly beating police officers
Updated 2 min 27 sec ago
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Pakistan announces joint inquiry after viral videos show soldiers allegedly beating police officers

Pakistan announces joint inquiry after viral videos show soldiers allegedly beating police officers
  • The army says the ‘unfortunate incident’ in Bahawalnagar was promptly addressed by both state institutions
  • The top cop in Punjab also blames social media ‘propaganda’ for blowing the incident out of proportion

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army announced to carry out a joint inquiry with police on Friday after a series of videos showing its soldiers beating up cops in Bahawalnagar district emerged on social media in the last few days.
A brief statement issued by the military’s media wing, ISPR, mentioned the “unfortunate incident” without providing further details.
According to the information available in the public domain, however, there was a brawl between the uniformed personnel belonging to both institutions after a soldier’s relative was arrested by the police without the necessary paperwork.
“An unfortunate incident occurred in Bahawalnagar recently, which was promptly addressed and resolved through collaborative efforts of military and police authorities,” the ISPR said. “Despite this, certain factions with vested motives started fanning vitriolic propaganda on social media to create divisions between state institutions and government departments.”
“To ensure a fair and deliberate inquiry, and to determine responsibility for violation of laws and misuse of authority, a joint inquiry comprising security and police officials will be conducted for ascertaining the facts and apportioning responsibility,” it added.
Similar incidents have also been recorded in the past where the army officials roughed up police personnel.
In September 2016, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police registered a complaint against army officials accused of beating four Motorway Police employees after the latter issued them a traffic ticket for reckless driving.
Earlier this week, police in Punjab, where Bahawalnagar district is located, described the social media videos as “fake propaganda” earlier this week after the incident was “taken out of context and exaggerated.”
Punjab Inspector General Police Dr. Usman Anwar also blamed the social media for blowing the incident out of proportion, saying this had benefited the country’s enemies who were trying to create the impression that Pakistani state institutions were at odds.
He noted there were no differences between the army and the police, adding the two sides had taken steps to address the issue as soon as it happened.


Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal

Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal
Updated 13 April 2024
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Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal

Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal
  • Muhammad Aurangzeb is scheduled to reach Washington tomorrow to attend the IMF, World Bank spring meetings
  • IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva has confirmed Pakistan has approached her organization for yet another loan program

KARACHI: Pakistan’s finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials in the United States with an aim to get a fresh loan for the country.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed this week Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA). The country reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF following the second and final review carried out under the SBA and is expected to receive a tranche of $1.1 billion toward the end of this month.
The finance minister is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday where he will attend the IMF and World Bank spring meetings and discuss the possibility of securing another $6-8 billion deal.
According to a statement released by the finance ministry, Aurangzeb briefed the prime minister about the performance of his ministry during the meeting.
“The finance minister informed the prime minister about his upcoming visit to the United States,” it said. “He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit.”
“The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting,” the statement added.
The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to the structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.
However, she also noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by the Pakistani authorities.
Earlier this week, the Asian Development Bank forecast a 1.9 percent growth in Pakistan during the current fiscal year, though it also warned of 25 percent inflation during the same period.
 


Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest

Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest
Updated 13 April 2024
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Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest

Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest
  • Gunmen stopped a bus in Balochistan and separated passengers belonging to Punjab after checking ID cards
  • Police in Nushki district say they pursued the armed men who fired rocket-propelled grenades and escaped

QUETTA: A group of unidentified gunmen stopped a passenger bus traveling from Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, to Taftan, a town bordering Iran, and killed nine passengers from Punjab province after checking the ID cards of people onboard in southwestern Pakistan, confirmed a senior police official on Saturday.
The incident happened on Friday night near the mountainous Nushki district of Balochistan province which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.
While no group has claimed responsibility of the attack, Baloch nationalists have long complained of political marginalization and economic exploitation, accusing the Pakistani government and Punjab province of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s rich natural resources.
Pakistani administrations have denied such allegations in the past, pointing out they have launched several development initiatives in the province to improve the lives of the residents of Balochistan.
Speaking to Arab News, a senior police official in Nushki said the armed men intercepted a passenger bus at the Quetta-Taftan Highway.
“They off-boarded nine passengers after checking their ID card near Sultan Charahi, and took them away to the nearby mountains before shooting them from point-blank range,” Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Allah Bukhsh said. “Police and law enforcement agencies pursued the terrorists who fired RPG [rocket-propelled grenades] on security forces and escaped. But hunt for these terrorists is underway.”
Baloch separatists have also targeted Punjabi laborers working in the province in the past. At least 10 of them had been killed in Balochistan’s Turbat district during two separate attacks last year in October.
A key armed separatist faction, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has intensified attacks in the region over the past two months following the February 8 general elections in Pakistan. The group launched coordinated attacks on the country’s key strategic installations in Gwadar and Kech districts during this period.
“Earlier on Friday, the terrorists also attacked a vehicle driven by the brother of an elected member of the provincial assembly from Nushki, Ghulam Dastagir Badini, and busted his vehicle’s tire,” the police officer added. “The vehicle fell down into a ditch killing one man and injuring four others.”
Chief Minister Balochistan Sarfaraz Bugti condemned the killings of passengers and asked law enforcement agencies to pursue people involved in the incident.
“We will not forgive these terrorists who are enemies of Pakistan and seek to sabotage peace in Balochistan,” he said in an official statement released by his office.
 


Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
Updated 13 April 2024
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Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
  • Haroon created Pakistan’s first English-language comedy TV show and improv comedy troupe BlackFish
  • Haroon says laughter is “cathartic” in Pakistan, a country steeped in pressing issues like militancy and poverty 

ISLAMABAD: It was a dark time in Pakistan when stand-up comedian Saad Haroon returned home after completing his education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2001. 

In a post-September 11 world, it was a nation divided over whether Pakistan should be involved in the United States’ war on terror or not. The war in neighboring Afghanistan led to a sudden rise in the number and scale of terror attacks in the country. The conflict in the region also hit major sectors of the economy, and trading activities were widely disrupted. And as Haroon would find out in the years to come, things would only get worse and laughter would turn out to be the best medicine.

“Little did I know that I would need a lot of comedy over the years because we’ve been dealing with kind of a situation after situation,” Haroon, now one of Pakistan’s best-known English language comedians, told Arab News in an interview in Karachi. “And I was like, ‘Okay, I can use comedy to really make people feel better’.”

The undated file photo shows Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon. (Photo courtesy: Saad Haroon)

Haroon is the creator of the first ever Pakistani improvizational comedy troupe “BlackFish” and was the first Pakistani stand-up comedian to perform in English in cities across Pakistan in his tour, “Saad Haroon: Very Live.” He has many other accolades to his name, including being voted the “Second Funniest Person in the World” during the first Laugh Factory worldwide competition held in 2014. 

But carving a niche as a comedian in Pakistan — and that too in the English language which is spoken by less than five million people in a country of 241 million — was no easy task. The learning curve was improvizational, with Haroon and his peers trading cassette tapes of international comedians to learn the tricks of the trade. And given the political chaos around him, it was no surprise that Haroon quickly turned to political satire, using comedy to make people laugh but also to make them understand the complexities of life.

“I could wax eloquent about these very difficult things that have been happening and it was fun and it was good,” he said, adding that political satire was “cathartic” and a “coping mechanism.”

“And sometimes the audience finds it fun. Sometimes they find it incredibly dark and it’s still rewarding.”

But does he ever get into trouble with his jokes?

“Well, my job is to push those boundaries and sometimes I don’t censor myself and I get in trouble,” Haroon said, recalling the backlash he received for writing a song named “Burqa Woman.”

“BLASKFISH”

Venturing into a full-time career as a comedian as far back as 2002, Haroon became aware of many sad realities about Pakistan’s creative industry, including that there were no quality writers. 

“Because there’s not much art, it means that we don’t actually have a system to create that art, which means we don’t have writers,” the comedian said. 

That’s why improvizational comedy became the answer.

“I was like, ‘Okay, if you don’t have writers, how do we do comedy without writers? Let’s do improv’.”

Thus was born BlackFish in 2002, but that was not without its challenges, not least of them the language barrier and the inability to generate money. 

“I think we charged a whopping Rs100 [36 cents] per ticket,” Haroon joked. “So, I couldn’t pay anyone in the troupe. I would collect the money in the kitty and then we’d go for dinner sometimes.”

Blaskfish continued for a few years before Haroon quit and started doing solo stand-up comedy shows.

Next Haroon created and hosted the first ever English language comedy television show in Pakistan called The Real News in 2007.

“That was political satire and people in Pakistan, we love making fun of politicians because you know, there’s no saving grace about it,” Haroon explained. 

Another major achievement was when in October 2014, he was voted the second funniest person in the world, securing 59,213 votes in the Laugh Factory competition.

“I think winning that second funniest person in the world award was amazing,” Haroon recalled. “And it was kind of amazing what it made other people in Pakistan feel like because they had something.”

For Haroon, art is important in Pakistan because conventional careers like becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer are not for everyone.

“We all really need money, but we all really need to laugh a little bit as well,” he said. “And so, I’ll go down with this ship laughing even if you don’t.”