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The Azadi Briefing: Why Are Afghans Rushing to Acquire Passports?

Afghans gather outside the passport office in Kabul in October 2021, two months after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled the country since then.
Afghans gather outside the passport office in Kabul in October 2021, two months after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled the country since then.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the critical issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

Thousands of Afghan men and women are flocking to the central passport office in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after the Taliban suspended online applications, forcing people to apply for them in person.

On January 10, videos circulating on social media platforms captured the desperation of Afghans seeking travel documents.

"The crowd was so big that my father lost his warm scarf," said Haseebullah, who arrived around midnight to line up in the freezing temperatures.

"Everyone was miserable," he told Radio Azadi.

Shizer Samim, a university student from the northern Balkh Province, is seeking a passport to study abroad after the Taliban barred women from attending universities in December 2022.

"I applied for a passport a year ago but I still don't have one," she told Radio Azadi.

Since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have attempted to get passports. But the process is marred by corruption, excessive fees, and long delays.

Why It's Important: The eagerness to obtain passports indicates that educated, skilled, and well-off Afghans are voting against the Taliban with their feet by seeking to escape the militants' harsh rule.

Afghanistan's extensive humanitarian and economic crises, coupled with the Taliban's draconian restrictions and bans on education and work for women, have prompted many Afghans to seek a normal life elsewhere.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans, mostly educated and skilled professionals, government workers, and middle-class entrepreneurs have fled Afghanistan since the Taliban regained power.

Despite the Taliban promising amnesty for former soldiers and government workers, human rights watchdogs have documented extensive reprisal killings, beatings, detentions, and harassment by the hard-line Islamist group.

The Taliban has established a monopoly on power by appointing its members and leaders to government positions, which leaves little incentive for most Afghans to believe in a future under the group.

Last year more than 1 million "undocumented Afghans" were expelled from neighboring Iran and Pakistan, and there were also significant deportations from Turkey.

Those events serve as additional incentives for Afghans to obtain documents before traveling abroad.

What's Next: Without significant improvements in the Taliban's governance and the country's economy, the Afghan exodus will only worsen.

The fading Afghan crisis from the international agenda and the mistreatment of Afghans in neighboring countries ensure that the four-decade cycle of Afghan displacement will continue.

What To Keep An Eye On

A senior Pakistani Islamist politician's visit to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to revive strained ties between the two neighbors has left many unanswered questions.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) party, has spent nearly a week in Kabul to meet with Taliban officials, including its reclusive chief, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and leaders of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), otherwise known as the Pakistani Taliban.

He went in an attempt to reduce tensions between erstwhile allies the Taliban and Islamabad over the group's alleged backing for the TTP. Since the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan, TTP attacks have killed thousands and threaten elections in JUI-F strongholds in northwestern Pakistan.

Rehman had claimed that while he was invited by the Taliban, his trip was sanctioned by Islamabad and the Foreign Ministry briefed him on the state of relations between the two countries.

But on January 11, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said Rehman's trip was private and "was not sponsored or advised by the government of Pakistan."

Why It's Important: While Rehman might gain some breathing space from the TTP for his election campaign, his visit is unlikely to improve bilateral ties immediately.

Islamabad remains staunchly opposed to talks with the TTP mediated by the Taliban, which is reluctant to give up on a key ideological and organizational ally.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.