Taliban to issue Afghan passports

The UN has warned of a severe humanitarian crisis in the country as winter sets in

A Taliban fighter inspects the documents of people queuing to enter the passport office in Kabul on December 18. AFP
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Taliban authorities in Afghanistan said on Saturday they would resume issuing passports, giving hope to citizens who feel threatened living under the extremists’ rule.

Thousands of Afghans have applied for travel documents to escape the country’s growing economic and humanitarian crisis, which the UN has called an “avalanche of hunger“.

Authorities will start issuing the documents from Sunday at Kabul’s passport office, Alam Gul Haqqani, the head of the passport department in the interior ministry, told reporters.

The Taliban stopped issuing passports shortly after their August 15 return to power, as tens of thousands of people scrambled to Kabul’s only airport to try to catch international flights out of the country.

In October, authorities reopened the passport office in Kabul only to suspend work days later as a flood of applications caused its biometric equipment to break down.

“All the technical issues have now been resolved,“ Haqqani said.

Initially, travel documents will be given to those who had applied before the office suspended work, he said.

New applications will be accepted from January 10, he said.

Many Afghans who wanted to visit neighbouring Pakistan for medical treatment have been unable to do so.

“My mother has some health issues and we needed to go to Pakistan a long time ago, but we could not because the passport department was closed,“ said Jamshid, who, like many Afghans, goes by one name.

“We are happy now ... we can get our passports and go to Pakistan,“ he said.

Many people gathered outside the passport office in Kabul on Saturday, soon after the announcement.

Issuing passports – and allowing eligible people to leave Afghanistan – is seen as a test of the Taliban’s commitment to engagement with the international community.

They are pressing donors to provide billions of dollars in aid that was suspended when the previous, western-backed regime imploded in the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

The abrupt withholding of aid has amounted to an “unprecedented“ fiscal shock for the Afghan economy, which is already battered by drought and decades of war, according to the UN Development Programme.

The crisis has forced many in the capital to sell possessions to buy food for their families.

On Saturday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai urged UN aid agencies to apply pressure for the release of nearly $10 billion of assets held in the US.

Stanekzai also urged all Afghan refugees living abroad to return now that the war has ended.

“We invite and encourage everyone to return to Afghanistan, even our political opponents,“ he said at an event held in Kabul to mark International Migrants Day.

“I request the United States to support us in giving our people a good life here in Afghanistan rather than taking them out.“

Over the past four decades, more than six million Afghans have fled the country to escape war and economic crises, most of them living in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.

The international community has so far not recognised the present Taliban government that was formed soon after the chaotic withdrawal of US-led foreign troops.

International flights, mainly to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have slowly resumed at Kabul’s airport, which was badly damaged in August when crowds of people scrambled to flee Afghanistan.

Updated: December 19, 2021, 3:26 AM