As India-Pakistan relations continue in a downward spiral, the fallout of the diplomatic crisis has begun to affect Afghani refugees living in Pakistan who are allegedly being targeted due to perceived international cooperation between India and Afghanistan.
Some 1.5 million registered refugees and more than a million other unregistered refugees that have been displaced due to the turbulent history of Afghanistan are vulnerable to mistreatment in the current climate. Islamabad's new repatriation plans announced last year to send people back have seen significant spike in numbers in the past few months as Indo-Afghan relations strengthened and those between India and Pakistan soured.
"Afghans used to be called 'Kabuli' in Pakistan, but now Pakistanis call them 'Hindus' because we signed economic agreements with India. They were telling us, we chose India's friendship so we should go to India. We were hiding in our shops and homes to avoid being arrested," Samihullah, an Afghani refugee, was quoted saying by Reuters
The number of assisted returns has jumped from 1,433 in June to 11,416 in July. In August the figure rose to 60,743. More than 90,000 have returned to Afghanistan so far this year, almost all from Pakistan, and the number is expected to cross 220,000 for the year, according to the UNHCR estimates.
The sharp rise in these figures coincides with escalating friction between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which flared into brief clashes at the Torkham border crossing in June. A series of economic and political accords signed between Afghanistan and India in recent months and the completion of the Indian-financed Salma dam in western Afghanistan in June have also affected relations and that disproportionately and negatively impact Afghani refugees.
"My son was stopped at a checkpoint and an officer tore up his Afghan citizenship card. Now he has no identification and we're scared he could get picked up any day now and sent away because he isn't registered," Bibi Shireen, who moved to Quetta from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar 30 years ago, said.
Though Afghanistan and Pakistan have both accused each other of harbouring militant extremists, Pakistani officials deny any systemic harassment of Afghans living in Pakistan and instead say that despite severe economic problems, they have been generous to the refugee population.
"We want them to return home in peace with honour and dignity," said Akhtar Munir, spokesman at the Pakistani embassy in Kabul, while adding that there was no connection between the repatriation of Afghan refugees and India.
Munir said that the Pakistani police have been instructed to not harass registered refugees but said that some Afghans living illegally who are engaging in unlawful activities will be punished and that this should not be confused with mistreatment of refugees.
However, not everyone executing orders shares same sentiment as that of Munir. "These people were our guests, we kept them in our house. Afghanistan should be grateful to us, Instead it ... has become buddies with India, it's like stabbing us in the back," said a Pakistani army official based in the southern city of Quetta.