Multiple tiers of immigration at Torkham trouble Afghans

Published August 30, 2021
Afghan nationals await clearance at Torkham border to return to their country. — Dawn
Afghan nationals await clearance at Torkham border to return to their country. — Dawn

KHYBER: The desperate Afghans, seeking their speedy and smooth return to their country after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, are now confronted with multiple tiers of immigration process, operated by at least three different departments at Torkham border.

Official sources confided to Dawn that checking of legal travel documents of the returning Afghans and allowing them to cross over to their homeland had not only become a ‘contentious matter’ among the staffers of three different departments including Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Nadra and National Logistic Cell, but it had off late become a lucrative business for them.

They said that the returning Afghans were made to pay a handsome amount to the staff members, albeit through their local touts, in return for permission to go back to Afghanistan.

Officials deputed at the immigration offices said that it was the sole responsibility of FIA to thoroughly check and clear or otherwise the travel documents of any foreigner at any border including Torkham.

They said that once cleared by FIA, nobody else had the authority or legal permission to stop or check the credentials of a returning Afghan or any other foreign national.

Officials say checking of documents at border has become contentious matter among staffers of three depts

“Unfortunately, over the period of time, since NLC has started its operations at Torkham, there have been complaints about its staff stopping those returning Afghans, who are already cleared by the immigration staff and then duly issued a token for border crossing,” said officials.

They said that it was a clear case of overstepping legal authority as NLC was only assigned the responsibility of managing the affairs of custom terminal and not to interfere in matters of immigration.

Requesting anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the issue, the officials said that they had in the recent past lodged several complaints with the NLC high-ups about its staff involvement in overstepping their authority and also demanding illegal gratifications from the returning Afghans, but to no avail.

They said that NLC had so far ‘successfully’ thwarted all efforts by the rival departments to ‘clip their wings’ and desist it from intimidating the desperate returning Afghan nationals.

The accusation of overstepping their authority and using illegal means to force the returning Afghans to pay bribes to the NLC staff for their return journey were also acknowledged by some of the Nadra staffers while the Torkham Labour Union members also conceded that some of their colleagues were working as touts for the NLC staff.

The Nadra staff contended that FIA officials were equally responsible for ‘robbing’ the returning Afghans as they too operated with the assistance of their local touts to coerce Afghans into paying them illegal money.

They said that returning Afghans were issued tokens by Nadra after thoroughly checking their personal credentials.

“The modus operandi adopted by FIA and NLC staffers is that they confiscate the token from Afghans right at the crossing point after they are cleared by Nadra and then these poor souls are made to wait for a long time till the local touts strike a deal with them and finally allowed them to go back after payment of an agreed amount, ranging from Rs5,000 to Rs30,000 per person,” said the official sources.

Jabir Shah, a young Afghan who had only recently come to Pakistan to look after his ailing father, who later died in Peshawar, told this scribe that he overstayed in Peshawar out of grief after the death of his father and then he was stopped by NLC staff at Torkham despite being issued a token by the Nadra staff.

He said that the NLC staff through its touts demanded Rs30,000 from him while he had all his travel documents except for overstaying in Pakistan for which FIA had already fixed a penalty of US $200, which he was willing to pay and go back to Afghanistan.

Twenty eight-year-old Abdul Basit Mamon, another Afghan hailing from Kunar province, showed his original Afghan national identity card to this scribe and said that even then he was not allowed to go back to his country as he was eager to meet his family after the Taliban took over his hometown recently.

The general manager of NLC at Torkham, retired Col Aziz, when contacted, vehemently denied all allegations of accepting bribes by any of its staff member but could not justify NLC’s checking of travel documents of Afghan nationals.

“I will immediately send him home if any staff member is found involved in corruption,” he said and added that NLC had zero tolerance for such elements among its ranks.

He, however, insisted that most of the Afghans had forged or fake travel documents and were thus stopped by the NLC staff to double check their credentials.

He said that majority of returning Afghans acquired their national identity card, which in local parleys was known as Tazkira, right at the Torkham border and even a Pakistani too could get such a document by payment of a meagre amount.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2021

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