KHYBER: With Pak-Afghan trade suspended for the sixth consecutive day on Thursday amid visa restrictions for transporters, majority of Afghan nationals wanting to visit Pakistan have complained they’re struggling to obtain passports and Pakistani visas.
Background interviews with Afghan nationals present in Pakistan revealed that a shortage of printing paper for Afghan passports in Kabul had considerably delayed passport issuance to a large number of applicants.
They told Dawn that Afghan passport authorities were setting the minimum one-year time for processing new passports after jacking up the fee by around three times.
Masud Umarzai, an Afghan student of a private university in Peshawar, said the demand for Afghan passports suddenly increased after Kabul’s takeover by the Taliban in August 2021 and the process gained momentum after Pakistan began expelling all undocumented aliens from its soil in November last year.
Insist passport authorities in Kabul are short of printing paper
He said though Afghan authorities didn’t share the reason for passport issuance delay, he and other nationals learned from credible sources that the passport authority was short of material to print the “much sought-after” national document.
Mr Umarzai said the situation had mostly affected young Afghans and others wanting to apply for visas in Pakistan-based foreign embassies.
Bhai Khan, an Afghan trader and resident of Kabul, said a woman member of his family and two of her children had been awaiting new passports for the last five months, while her husband got his passport renewed two months ago on the payment of double fee to undergo a surgery in Peshawar.
He said the delay in the issuance of passports and Pakistani visas had hampered the plans of a large number of Afghan nationals to visit Pakistan.
Some Afghan nationals alleged that they were asked to bribe agents, both Pakistani and Afghans in Kabul and Jalalabad, in dollars for speedy visa issuance.
Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul and consulate in Jalalabad have denied the allegation.
Immigration staff at Torkham told Dawn that around 157,000 Afghan nationals entered Pakistan via the border crossing from Oct 2023 to Dec 2023.
They said the number of Afghans entering Pakistan via Torkham daily had come down to 1,700 compared to 8,000-10,000 before Pakistan announced the policy of expelling all undocumented foreign nationals in November last year.
Qari Nazeem Gul, a local trader and a vehement opponent of visa policy for both Afghans and local tribesmen, argued that the number of Afghan businessmen had considerably reduced after the imposition of new visa restrictions that also significantly reduced the volume of the bilateral trade.
He said a large number of Afghan patients had also stopped coming to Peshawar for treatment due to difficulties in getting Pakistani visas or renewal of their passports.
Mr Gul also complained about the “harsh” behaviour of Pakistani border and immigration officials towards Afghan visitors and said such conduct was not only discouraging Afghans to visit Pakistan but was also abetting animosity between the two countries.
Meanwhile, customs clearing agents at Torkham told Dawn that foreign ministries of both countries had established a contact on Wednesday raising hopes about the reopening of Torkham border for trade in a couple of days.
Islamabad and Kabul have yet to formally acknowledge such contact.
Afghan transporters stranded at Torkham due to visa restrictions told Dawn that after getting the permission to return, they would require months to get hold of their new passports in Kabul.
They said first the trade suspension and then the prolonged delay in passport issuance would financially hit them hard.
A sizable number of Afghan drivers with both valid passports and visas have also got stuck on the border.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2024