Hundreds of Afghans gather outside passport office as Taliban resumes issuing travel documents

Hundreds of Afghans gathered outside a passport office in Kabul on Wednesday, a day after Taliban officials said that the country would resume issuing travel documents, ending a months-long suspension that had further diminished the already limited ability of Afghans to leave their war-torn country.

Alam Gul Haqqani, acting head of the passport office, told reporters Tuesday that up to 6,000 passports would be issued daily. The Taliban government would also release 25,000-plus new passports that had previously been paid for, he said at a news conference.

In Wednesday’s chaotic scenes, Taliban guards beat back people trying to apply for passports in an attempt to maintain order, Reuters reported. According to Reuters, the Taliban will begin issuing passports Saturday. However, they are not yet accepting new applications.

The passports will continue to be issued under the name of the former government, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Taliban has been renamed an Islamic Emirate and no country has recognized it as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.

The reopening comes as the Taliban struggles to govern a country that is facing a major brain drain. Fearing that the Taliban would enforce its strict interpretation of Islamic law, many Afghans who were educated fled to Afghanistan after the Taliban took over in August. While the Islamist militants have pledged to govern more moderately than during their brutal 1996 to 2001 reign, many remain deeply skeptical of such promises.

In the past two months, the passport office received at least 170,000 applications, local media reported.

A Taliban spokesman had previously said educated Afghans should stay because it was “time for people to work for their country,” though the militants have agreed to let citizens with valid visas freely leave, according to Western officials.

There are no restrictions on who can apply for a passport, Interior Ministry spokesman Qari Saeed Khosti said at the news conference. He urged ex-government officials and professional “to step forward” as Afghanistan has “invested in them” and to “play their part” in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Afghans with valid passports still face difficulties leaving the country. Afghanistan sits at the bottom of the 2021 Henley Passport Index, which ranks travel documents based on the number of places holders can visit without having to obtain a visa. Afghanistan has been in last place for most of the past 16 years, and many embassies that issued visas have relocated out of the country since the Taliban seized power.

However, even the prospect of being able to leave Afghanistan has led to some relief. Kabul resident Najia Aman told Reuters that she was “very happy” to hear about the resumption of passport issuance, because it meant a family member could go to Pakistan for medical treatment.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan said in an interview that his country could only process visas on valid passports and that “passport renewal is an Afghanistan issue.”

But it wasn’t immediately clear if Afghans outside Kabul, the capital, would be able to easily apply for passports. According to Helmand’s resident, many regional passport offices suffered damage during Taliban rule.

“Maybe now, it is only in the capital Kabul that people could get their passports,” the person said.

The Taliban is also allowing some female employees at the Interior Ministry to return to work so that they can process paperwork submitted by women applying for a passport, Khosti said. He noted, however, that the female staff “will come to the office through a separate entrance.”

The vast majority of female Afghan government employees have been told to stay home from work, though the Taliban has said such a move would be temporary.

Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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