Pakistan has ordered some 1.7 million Afghans living illegally in the country to leave by the end of the month or face deportation.
The order, which was announced by the country’s interior minister on Tuesday, comes as Pakistan grapples with a rise in attacks that its government blames on militants operating from Afghanistan – a charge that Kabul routinely denies.
About 1.3 million Afghans are registered refugees in Pakistan and 880,000 more have legal status to remain, according to the latest United Nations figures.
But Sarfraz Bugti, Pakistan’s caretaker interior minister, said that a further 1.7 million Afghans were in Pakistan illegally.
All will have to return home in the coming months, according to a report by the state-run news agency APP.
“The illegal immigrants and illegal foreign nationals who are living in Pakistan are given a deadline of November 1,” Mr Bugti told reporters in Islamabad.
“If they do not go ... then all the law enforcement agencies in the provinces or federal government will be utilised to deport them.”
APP went further, however, citing government sources as saying that the administration wanted all Afghans to leave.
“In the first phase, illegal residents, in the second phase, those with Afghan citizenship, and in the third phase those with proof of residence cards will be expelled,” it said.
Afghanistan’s embassy on Tuesday said that more than 1,000 Afghans have been detained in the past two weeks, despite half of them having a legal right to be in Pakistan.
“Despite the repeated promises of the Pakistan authorities, the arrest and harassment of Afghan refugees by the police in Pakistan continues,” it said.
Mr Bugti also said that from November 1, Pakistan would only allow entry to Afghans with valid passports and visas.
For years, Afghans entering Pakistan via land borders have been allowed to use their national identity cards as a travel document.
There is a huge waiting list in Afghanistan for nationals seeking to get passports, and obtaining a Pakistani visa can take months.
Mr Bugti also warned of a tightening of restrictions on property and businesses owned by Afghans in Pakistan.
“A task force has been formed for that purpose at the interior ministry. All the properties and businesses of those living here illegally are out of our tax net,” he said.
“Our intelligence agencies will search them out and their business will be confiscated by the government.”
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have soured since the Taliban’s return, with a sharp rise in militant attacks along Pakistan’s border.
“There have been 24 suicide attacks since January, 14 of these 24 were carried by Afghan nationals,” Mr Bugti told reporters.
Pakistan has launched similar moves against Afghans in the past and threatened to deport them all, but the campaigns have fizzled out after a few months or following talks between the respective capitals.