Hundreds of Afghans gathered outside a passport office in Kabul on Wednesday, a day after Taliban officials announced that the country would resume issuing travel documents, ending a months-long suspension that had further hampered Afghans’ ability to leave their war-torn country.
The acting head of the passport office, Alam Gul Haqqani, told reporters on Tuesday that up to 6,000 passports would be issued daily. At a news conference, he said the Taliban government would also issue 25,000 new passports that had previously been paid for.
In an attempt to maintain order, Taliban guards beat back people attempting to apply for passports on Wednesday. According to the news agency, the Taliban plans to begin issuing passports on Saturday and is not currently accepting new applications.
Passports will be issued in the name of the former government, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. No country has officially recognized the Taliban, which has renamed Afghanistan an Islamic Emirate, as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
The reopening comes as the Taliban struggles to govern a country suffering from a significant brain drain. Following the Taliban takeover in August, many educated Afghans fled, fearing the regime would impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law. While Islamist militants have pledged to govern more moderately than they did during their brutal reign from 1996 to 2001, many remain skeptical of such promises.
According to local media, the passport office has received at least 170,000 applications in the last two months.
According to Western officials, a Taliban spokesman previously stated that educated Afghans should stay because it was “time for people to work for their country,” but the militants have agreed to allow citizens with valid visas to leave freely.
At the news conference, Interior Ministry spokesman Qari Saeed Khosti stated that there are no restrictions on who can apply for a passport. However, he urged former government officials and professionals to “come forward because the nation has invested in them” and “play their part in rebuilding” Afghanistan.
Afghans with valid passports are still unable to leave the country. Afghanistan ranks last in the 2021 Henley Passport Index, which ranks travel documents based on the number of countries holders can visit without a visa. Afghanistan has ranked last for the majority of the last 16 years, and many embassies that issued visas have left the country since the Taliban took power. Even the prospect of being able to leave Afghanistan has provided some solace. Najia Aman, a Kabul resident, told reporters that she was “very happy” to hear about the resumed issuance of passports because it meant a family member could travel to Pakistan for medical treatment.
Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, stated in an interview that his country could only process visas on valid passports and that “passport renewal is an Afghanistan issue.”
However, it was unclear whether Afghans living outside of Kabul, the capital, would be able to easily apply for passports. According to a resident of Helmand province who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, many regional passport offices were damaged during the Taliban takeover.
“Perhaps now, people can only get passports in Kabul,” the individual speculated.
According to Khosti, the Taliban is also allowing some female employees at the Interior Ministry to return to work in order to process paperwork submitted by women applying for passports. He did, however, mention that the female employees would “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.