(Clockwise): Afghans gather outside the passport office in Kabul on Wednesday after the Taliban officials announced they will start issuing passports to citizens again, following months of delays that hampered attempts by those trying to leave Afghanistan after the group seized control of the country. Maulvi Alam Gull Haqqani, head of the passport department (right), pictured near the office. A soldier speaks to people gathered outside the passport office. A worker checks documents of applicants.—Reuters / AFP
(Clockwise): Afghans gather outside the passport office in Kabul on Wednesday after the Taliban officials announced they will start issuing passports to citizens again, following months of delays that hampered attempts by those trying to leave Afghanistan after the group seized control of the country. Maulvi Alam Gull Haqqani, head of the passport department (right), pictured near the office. A soldier speaks to people gathered outside the passport office. A worker checks documents of applicants.—Reuters / AFP

KABUL: The reopening of the passport office in Kabul on Wednesday gave some Afghans who feel threatened under Taliban rule fresh hope they may soon be able to escape the country.

Hundreds of people flocked to the department to apply for travel documents in a test of the new Afghan government’s commitment to the international community to allow eligible people to leave.

“I’m trying to run away,” said Mohammad Hanif, who said he was an interpreter for the US special forces in the south of the country from 2009 to 2013.

Like many Afghans who worked for US and allied forces following the 2001 invasion, Hanif fears the Taliban will take revenge if they find him, so is desperate to flee.

“I have a stress right now,” Hanif said in English. “Because also I live in Helmand province — it’s very dangerous.”

The 32-year-old was among those who went to the passport office in Kabul as it opened for the first time since the Taliban seized power in mid-August.

A day earlier the Taliban had announced that all staff — including female employees — had been asked to return to their offices as the new government tries to kickstart the country’s flailing infrastructure.

Hanif said he first applied for his passport four months ago, but only managed to complete the application on Wednesday and will collect the document in a couple of days.

The former interpreter said he has a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for the United States and plans to move there with his wife and two children.

He said he first tried to leave Afghanistan during the chaotic US-led evacuation operation in August, but could not get into Kabul airport.

“When the Taliban took over the country, especially the capital, everyone tried to go to the airport,” he said outside the passport office, clutching his paperwork.

“I got an email and phone call from my mentor as well to get my ass to the airport, so I went there. “There were a lot of people, a lot of crowds. I couldn’t make it.”

Since then, Hanif said he is being hunted in Helmand province by the Taliban who accuse him of stealing weapons and a vehicle from the government.

“Yesterday I got a call... and they’re trying to catch me,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2021

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