KABUL (Reuters) – The head of the Kabul Passport Office has asked for patience from thousands of Afghans waiting for documents that would let them leave the country as large crowds continue to gather outside, a month after the office suspended operations.
As winter closes in and economic crisis deepens in the wake of the abrupt withdrawal of foreign aid after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the crowds around the biggest passport issuing centre in the country underline the desperate desire of large numbers of citizens to leave.
“We have done our best to reopen the office but we are still facing some equipment shortages,” passport office head Alam Gul Haqqani told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.
Last month the office was forced to close after equipment used for issuing biometric documents broke down under the pressure of processing thousands of applications a day but demand has built steadily.
Even though the office has been closed for weeks, hundreds of people still gather outside the fortified compound clutching plastic document files, regularly beaten back from the crash barriers by Taliban security forces.
“I am sure the office will restart and we will fulfil all applications,” Haqqani said. “I assure the nation that no-one will leave our office with any reason to be upset.”
He appealed to people to stay away until the office is operational again.
“I am really sorry about this, I am upset because people are facing hardship. They’re wasting their money and standing here uselessly,” Haqqani said.
“The office is closed, our systems are not operational.”
A number of provincial passport offices are still open and officials in Kabul are processing around 2,000-3,000 passports from these offices each day, he said, but it was still unclear when the Kabul office would reopen.
As well as the equipment issues, Haqqani said officials were working on stamping out corruption and rooting out the so-called ‘Commissionkar’ – commission agents who promise to ensure swift treatment of applications for a fee.
“We have arrested bribe takers, from inside and outside the office,” he said. “We will use any possible way to clean the country of bribe takers everywhere.”
(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Mohammad Yunus Yawar; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)