According to sources at the Pakistan Home and Tribal Affairs Department, dozens of Afghan clerics have or will soon be deported from Pakistan. A. Zia meets an Afghan prayer leader who was twice arrested then
April 10, 2015, was the last time Maulvi Abdullah, 45, would lead prayers at the mosque in Qaziabad, a small village of Mardan district in the norhwest Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Abdullah had settled with his family in the village 16 years ago. In the 1980s they fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and spent years in the Shamshato refugee camp outside Peshawar. Later in Qaziabad, Abdullah studied Islam and became a prayer leader and a respected teacher of the Koran.
Random arrests of Afghans after school attack
Maulvi Abdullah's life was turned upside down on December 16, 2014, when a group of Taliban stormed into the Army Public School on Warsak Road in Peshawar, killing 150 people, mostly students. In February 2015, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government ordered all commissioners and district police officers to arrest Afghan clerics in the province and expel them within a week. The KP Home and Tribal Affairs Department issued a list of around 294 Afghan clerics to be expelled and Maulvi Abdullah was among those arrested by security forces in Mardan on March 20, 2015. He was ordered to leave within a week or face imprisonment.
“After the December 16 school attack, twice security forces arrested me and kept me in jail,” recounts Abdullah, adding that the first time he spent three days behind bars, where he claims he was "mentally tortured" through repeated interrogations. Abdullah says he was asked what kind of teachings he offered his pupils and how long he spent in the village and in the mosque. He denies any links to extremist teachings and says his objective was only ever to "teach the holy Koran".
After a three-day interrogation, he was released. “It was evening when the security forces left me in a strange area I did not know. I ran for an hour run until I reached the Bazaar on Malakand Road,” Abdullah told Afghanistan Today.
Ten days later he was again arrested and released on condition that he would voluntarily repatriate, which he has agreed to do, albeit it reluctantly. “My three children and my wife considered this village as their hometown and we cannot even imagine leaving the area,” says Abdullah.
Police spokesman confirms arrests
Paroze Shah, spokesman for the deputy commissioner of police in Peshawar, confirmed that after the December 16 school tragedy hundreds of suspected Afghans were arrested. “After investigation some have been released while others are still in prisons,” Shah told Afghanistan Today, adding that a “number” of Afghan clerics have been handed over to the Home and Tribal Affairs Department.
UNHCR says it has been undertaking joint awareness-raising sessions with law enforcement agencies, NGO partners and the Government of Pakistan to alleviate the crisis. “These interventions have helped in calming down the situation,” said a UNHCR spokesperson in KP. Afghan refugees holding Proof of Registration have a legal right to stay in Pakistan until December 31, 2015. “Individuals who claim to be at risk of human rights violations or other serious harm in case of return to Afghanistan should be provided access to the refugee status determination procedure carried out by the UNHCR under its mandate,” added the UNHCR spokesperson, claiming the situation is “stabilizing”. Unregistered or undocumented Afghans however do not enjoy any protected refugee status in Pakistan and fall under the scope of the provisions of the 1946 Foreigners Act.
Official: clerics "manipulating people for Jihad"
An official with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home and Tribal Affairs Department, wishing not to be named, said that the crackdown will continue against Afghan clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa mosques. He blamed these clerics for “manipulating people for Jihad through their heated speeches at ceremonies”. The official said his department has collected evidence on the suspected clerics and many will soon “be expelled from the country.”