Pakistan Tightens Border as Deadline Looms to Deport Afghans

  • Taliban leader Mansour killed in Pakistan by U.S. drone strike
  • At least 1.5 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan

Pakistan beefed up security at a northwestern border crossing with Afghanistan to stop the infiltration of militants as it considers a request from its neighbor to extend a June 30 deadline for deporting at least 1.5 million refugees.

“Effective border management is part of counter-terrorism efforts, which is in the interests of both countries because this is a common concern,” Nafees Zakaria, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, told reporters in the capital Islamabad on Thursday, without elaborating on the measures being taken. Similar action will be taken at other border crossings at a later date, he said.

On Tuesday, at the Pakistan side of the Torkhum border, an announcement was made through loudspeakers that no person would be allowed to cross without correct documents, said Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, a local trader. Many trucks are stuck on both sides, he said.

“Border guards are so strict in checking travelling documents, asking questions like why are you going there?” he said. “The delays are costing us huge.”

The border tightening comes after the May 21 killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour by a U.S. drone strike. Mansour’s death within Pakistan’s borders was an embarrassment to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government because it highlighted how -- five years after commandos killed Osama Bin Laden near an elite military academy -- a top threat to the U.S. was able to enter and leave the country with impunity.

Afghan Refugees

Pakistan argues that it maintains contacts with the Taliban to prod it toward participation in peace talks. The perception that Pakistan controls the Taliban has led to “unrealistic expectations,” Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser, said last week.

Afghanistan’s government is also seeking to extend an end of month deadline that Pakistan has set to repatriate all Afghan refugees within its borders, Zakaria said. Pakistan is considering that request, he said. The repatriation deadline has been repeatedly pushed back.

Last year Sharif said the international community should support Afghanistan in bringing back refugees fleeing conflict in the country and help create conducive conditions for their reintegration. The United Nations says there are about 1.5 million registered refugees living in Pakistan, while the government estimates that as many as another 1.5 million people are living without documents.

Yet within Afghanistan the number of internally displaced civilians fleeing war has more than doubled to at least 1.2 million in the past three years, with the government’s attempts to improve squalid living conditions has been stymied by corruption and lack of capacity, Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday.

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