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.
In Wednesday’s chaotic scenes, Taliban guards beat back people trying to apply for passports in an attempt to maintain order, Reuters reported. The Taliban plans to start issuing passports on Saturday and isn’t yet taking new applications, according to the news agency.
The passports will continue to be issued under the name of the former government, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. No country has officially recognized the Taliban, which has renamed the country an Islamic Emirate, as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
The reopening comes as the Taliban struggles to govern a country that is facing a major brain drain. Many educated Afghans fled following the Taliban takeover in August, fearing the regime would implement its severe interpretation of Islamic law. 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. But he urged former government officials and professionals “to come forward as the nation has invested in” them and “to play their part in rebuilding” 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. Many regional passport offices were damaged in fighting during the Taliban takeover, according to a resident of Helmand province, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution.
“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.