Deporting Afghans will harm Pakistan's economy, trade leaders say

Ministers meet to discuss 4,000 containers of Afghan transit trade stuck in Pakistan

At least 1.7 million undocumented Afghans forced to leave Pakistan

At least 1.7 million undocumented Afghans forced to leave Pakistan
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Afghan businessman Muhammad Noor Ahmedzai, 50, and his family left his home country when he was five years old and settled in the Peshawar district of Pakistan.

Almost half a century later, in the middle of a process of deporting Afghans from Pakistan, he is now facing deportation and looking at ways to keep his business alive, either in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Mr Ahmedzai, president of Afghan Transport Owners' Association, told The National that the mass deportation will have damaging effects on Pakistan's economy.

He said he is considering moving his business to the Chabahar port in Iran or the Sher Khan border in Afghanistan soon after his deportation, which he said seemed imminent.

Mr Ahmedzai holds a Proof of Registration card issued by the UNHCR for Afghan refugees.

“This decision of deportation will harm the economy of Pakistan, particularly Pashtuns living on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as currently there are around 5,000 vehicles of Afghan businesspersons plying the roads in Pakistan,” he said.

“We have spent millions of rupees on registering the vehicles with the customs department in Pakistan. A single vehicle sells for at least three million [Pakistani] rupees and there are vehicles selling for around 10 million rupees each. However, we have no option but to move across the border.”

The government of Pakistan had initially set an October 31 deadline for undocumented refugees to leave the country. Afterwards, the government announced a December 31 deadline for the registered refugees living in Pakistan to leave the country.

The major reason behind the sour relations is that Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of sheltering TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) militants, who stage attacks in Pakistan.

Relations deteriorated in September when the two countries’ soldiers clashed at the Torkham border over the establishment of a bunker, leaving two Afghan soldiers dead. Several bomb attacks in Pakistan afterwards were blamed on “bombers originating from Afghanistan”.

Thousands of trade containers stuck

Pakistan-Afghan transit trade has ground to a halt since October 1, the co-ordinator of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, told The National.

He said about 4,000 containers involved in the Afghan transit trade were stuck in Pakistan.

“Thousands of people, including drivers and their helpers, customs clearing agents and owners have been rendered jobless,” Mr Sarhadi said. "Also, when these vehicles move, they use fuel and eat at hotels on the way, meaning that a lot of business is involved in this trade."

The deadlock in the Afghan transit trade, Mr Sarhadi said, was a result of the government imposing a 10 per cent processing fee on the transit trade and restrictions on more than 100 products.

“It is now possible to pay such a huge amount as a processing fee and to remove such a large number of goods from the containers now,” he said. "This is why around 4,000 containers are stuck at the Karachi port and we are holding negotiations with the authorities to resolve this issue."

Ministers meet over deadlock

On Tuesday, Pakistani and Afghan ministers held a meeting to discuss the deadlock.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office on X, formerly Twitter, said Afghanistan's Commerce Minister Nooruddin Azizi arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday and met Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani.

Mr Jilani said regional trade's full potential can be regained with collective action against terrorism.

The embassy of Afghanistan said that during the meeting, the delegation discussed the transfer to Afghanistan of commercial goods and properties of Afghan refugees stranded at the port in Karachi.

Local markets in Pakistan have also been affected by the situation. Jehangir Khan, general secretary of Peshawar Traders Union, said the deportation of Afghans was having far-reaching effects on rents and the price of properties, as well as other businesses.

He said the deportation of Afghans involved in the trading of carpets, clothing, shoes and antiques, as well as those in the transport and hotel industries, has created a gap in these sectors.

“Our sales in the markets have dropped by around 40 per cent due to the ongoing hectic activity of deportation,” he added.

Real estate dealers said that while prices of properties have declined by almost 25 per cent, their business has also declined during the deportation process because fewer clients come to them for to rent or buy properties.

“On the one hand, properties being vacated by Afghans is resulting in reduction in their prices, but on the other hand, the numbers of tenants and buyers is also witnessing decline,” said Sardar Khan, who has worked in the real estate business for about 20 years.

Room for Pakistan's businesspeople

But some believe that the deportation of Afghans will benefit Pakistani businesspeople.

Malik Meher Elahi, president of the Tanzeem-e-Tajeran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP Traders Union), said property prices and rents were expected to plummet.

“Several Afghan businessmen had dominated the local businesses. Their deportation will give space to the local Pakistani businesspersons,” he said.

“I think the registered Afghan nationals should be allowed to do their business in Pakistan, but those who have acquired Pakistani national identity cards and thus acquired space in business and trade here should be found out and deported.

"This decision of deportation is in the best interest of Pakistanis.”

On Tuesday, the Interior Minister told a session of the senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s parliament, that 300,000 Afghan refugees have left the country in the deportation drive.

The senate session debated the deportation of Afghans, asking the government to reconsider the ongoing process, which will leave many without basic necessities during the winter.

Updated: November 15, 2023, 1:53 PM