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Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal announced on Wednesday that the Passports and Immigration Office will begin issuing e-passports from next year.

The contract for the preparation of e-passports had earlier been signed by a representative of private French company Gemalto and Director General Passports and Immigration Usman Bajwa in a ceremony held at the Ministry of Interior.

The e-passports are so called due to a microchip that contains all the biometric information of a traveler which is embedded in the document. The chip helps authenticate the identity of a traveler and officials hope the new system will prevent the forgery of travel documents.

The introduction of e-passports had been approved by then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan last year. The project was supposed to be fully operational by the current year, but questions had been raised over the transparency of the procurement process, leading to delays.

The incumbent interior minister said the e-passports will first be issued for diplomats starting March 2018 and will be available for the citizenry from June 2018.