Farhad Salehi, a resident of the western province of Herat, has been searching for a Pakistani visa for weeks. Like hundreds of thousands of his compatriots, he wants to escape the uncertainty caused by the economic collapse that followed the Taliban’s takeover last year.
He first tried the official channels, speaking directly to the Pakistani embassy in the capital, Kabul. But after being denied a visa, he took a route often taken by Afghans in a similar situation: the black market, where the trade in permits to travel or live in the neighboring Muslim country thrives.
“A very sick patient can obtain a visit visa by applying directly to the embassy,” Salehi told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “But others have to rely on the black market.”
So far, his efforts have been in vain, although he has spent $500 on bribes to intermediaries. But Salehi says there are visas available for those willing to pay the price.
“People can get a one-month visa for $300, a five-month visa for $500, and a one-year visa for $700,” he said.
Some Afghans have said Pakistani visas are sold for more than $1,000, a sum that is out of reach for most after the Taliban takeover destroyed livelihoods and the country’s economy plunged in a protracted crisis.
Even the legal route to obtaining a visa can be a costly and exhausting process of heavy paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles that leads some to bribe officials through middlemen to cut bureaucracy.
But there is no shortage of Afghans willing to do whatever it takes to flee their homeland after the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government in August.
Former government workers, rights activists and journalists told Radio Azadi they were constantly harassed because of their past work and expressed fears of persecution by the Taliban.
Others said they wanted to escape the intransigent Taliban regime, which bans women’s education and work and prevents musicians and artists from practicing their profession.
The economic free fall – aided by the loss of foreign aid and trade and a persistent drought – has shuttered businesses and left few options for alternative livelihoods. And the disastrous health situation has forced many Afghans to turn to Pakistan for treatment.
Some are seeking permanent removal, ideally by obtaining UN asylum or applying for Western visas upon arriving in Islamabad, where they have access to diplomatic missions no longer available in Afghanistan, including the Taliban government. is not recognized by any country.
The growing desperation among Afghans has opened up new avenues of corruption. A ‘commissionaire’, as Afghan intermediaries at the Pakistani embassy are known on the street, tells Radio Azadi that difficulties in going through the formal process of obtaining travel documents has allowed corruption to flourish .
“The embassy does not accept visa applications, but we can get them by bribing embassy staff,” he told Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity.
A senior Pakistani embassy official in Kabul acknowledged the problem. He told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that allegations of corruption led to the dismissal of several embassy staff this year.
“Due to complaints of bribery over the past three months, we have fired 12 embassy staff,” he said, on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.
He said a “thorough investigation” targeted employees who were “knocking money off Afghans” applying for Pakistani visas.
Getting out of Afghanistan can be difficult even for Afghans who have contacts who can help them settle abroad. Even getting an Afghan passport can be difficult, with the Taliban frequently closing the country’s only passport office, and countries like the United States requiring face-to-face interviews for some visas – an impossibility unless they can reach diplomatic offices in a third country.
In a June 6 statement, the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul said most Afghans who have been denied visas have not completed their applications correctly.
“Invitation letters and other details, including details of their stay in Pakistan, are not filled out correctly,” the letter said. “This results in most applications being referred for consideration.”
On June 12, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced that under a new visa policy for Afghans, Islamabad would issue transit visas that would allow them to legally enter the country to complete paperwork for subsequent international travel.
Sharif said the move was “part of our efforts to continue helping our Afghan brothers and sisters in these difficult times.” He called on the international community to “also lend a hand to the Afghan people”.
Salman Sufi, an adviser to Sharif, said transit visas would be limited to Afghans who have already been accepted for immigration elsewhere.
“Shehbaz has approved visas on arrival for Afghan refugees who must pass through Pakistan to reach their destination, which has approved their immigration,” he added. tweeted.
Under the new visa policy, Islamabad will issue a 30-day transit visa within 24 hours to Afghan nationals wishing to travel to a third country after their immigration is approved.
More than 100,000 Afghans entered Pakistan on visas obtained after the Taliban took power 10 months ago. They are mostly educated professionals looking to relocate to another country.
Prior to their arrival, Islamabad was already hosting around 1.3 million documented refugees. Several hundred thousand additional Afghans live in the country without papers. Since the beginning of the year, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recorded the return of some 34,000 Afghan refugees from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Islamabad has become home to several million Afghan refugees, one of the largest refugee populations in the world. After the fall of the former Taliban regime, which ruled from 1996 to 2001, more than 5 million Afghans voluntarily returned to their country from Pakistan over nearly two decades, according to UNHCR, the United Nations for Refugees.
Islamabad is not a signatory to international conventions on the rights of refugees. Its treatment of Afghan refugees over the past three decades has oscillated between generosity and discrimination, and Pakistan has faced numerous accusations of harassment, mistreatment, arbitrary detention and forced returns to Afghanistan.