Human rights groups file the petition amid an ongoing crackdown on undocumented foreigners in the country.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has opened a hearing on a petition filed by human rights groups to stop the deportations of Afghans who were born in Pakistan and those who would be at risk if they were returned to Afghanistan.
More than 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since October 1 after Pakistan said it would expel more than a million undocumented refugees and migrants, mostly Afghans, amid a row with Kabul over charges that it harbours anti-Pakistan armed groups.
Pakistan said most Afghans have left voluntarily, a claim rejected by Kabul, which has called the Pakistani action “unilateral” and “humiliating”.
“Due to the urgency, as thousands of people are suffering on daily basis, I’ve requested the court to take up the case as early as next week,” Umar Ijaz Gilani, the lawyer representing the rights activists, said on Friday.
Thousands of undocumented Afghans have gone underground in Pakistan to avoid deportation, fearing for their lives if they return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following a hasty and chaotic withdrawal of United States-led Western forces in 2021.
Pakistan has long hosted about 1.7 million Afghans, most of whom fled the country 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 a US and NATO pull-out.
Human rights activists, United Nations officials and others have denounced Pakistan’s policy and urged Islamabad to reconsider.
The petition came a day after an official in Balochistan announced that the southwestern province is setting a target of 10,000 Afghans who are in the country illegally for police to arrest and deport every day.
Gilani argued before the Supreme Court that the interim government in Pakistan does not have the authority to introduce such major policy shifts. The government is in place until February’s elections, and under Pakistani law, it only handles day-to-day matters of state.
The court later on Friday asked the government for a response and adjourned the hearing until next week.
At the centre of deteriorating relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan is Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a banned armed group also referred to as the Pakistani Taliban for its ideological proximity to the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The group has been accused of hundreds of deadly attacks after it ended a ceasefire agreement with the Pakistani government a year ago.
Pakistan said 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.
The petition is unlikely to have any impact on the crackdown, said Mahmood Shah, a security analyst in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
“Let us see how the government side convinces the Supreme Court about this matter,” he said.