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Afghan nationals carry their passports as they wait to extend their visas outside the Pakistani immigration office in Peshawar on March 13, 2017, following the Pakistani Torkham and Chaman borders were closed with Afghanistan. A spike in tensions led to the border being closed following a spate of attacks in Pakistan, the deadliest of which was a suicide attack at a crowded Sufi shrine in Pakistan's Sindh province which killed 90 people, and which was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. / AFP PHOTO / ABDUL MAJEED

How the new visa policy imposed by Pakistan creates hitches for Afghans?

By Ziaullah Akhtar

Having been affected by the decades of turmoil and lost almost all the infrastructural institutions including hospitals, Afghans have chosen Pakistan as a cost effective and an accessible destination for treatment. Though people get convenient cure in the hospitals of Peshawar, Pakistan, but still there are some obstacles that disturb the Afghan patients in Pakistan—visa issue being one of them, which has proven to be a heinous problem for ordinary Afghans who can hardly afford the expenses and visit to Pakistan.

After the sprint in repatriation of the Afghan immigrants to Afghanistan, and the political tensions that have surged between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pakistan government have started closing the Turkham crossing and the new immigration rules have been imposed by the Pakistani officials that caused hindrances for the Afghans who used to visit Pakistan for treatment, this practice has turned out to be forcing the Afghans to stand in lines for hours for Pakistani visa issuance at the consulate of Pakistan, Nangarhar.

Reports show that every day around 1800 Pakistani visas are issued to Afghans in Pakistan consulate at Nangarhar; people have to rush up to the consulate before the dawn to grab turns at the queue to get their visas issued on time. standing at queue has proven fatigue for the people, as they have to bear the unfair treatment of the security guards, patients are forced to stand at line regardless of how and what illness they suffer.

Issuance of a limit number of visas has resulted in the emergence of extreme complications that are not bearable for the compelled Afghans to confront with, according to reports; many old age people have died due suffocation, losing conscious, becoming faint while they are standing at queues for too long. “I have been waiting for 6 days to get my visa issued, I have to sleep on footpath with my two female family members, both are suffering serious illness of having stones in their stomachs, we are forced to bear this misery in hope of getting the visa, because there is no other alternative left for us” Said Shakur in an interview with Mashal Radio.

Officials of the Pakistan’s consulate at Jalalabad claimed in a press conference that they issue around 1800 visas each day, but they receive approximately 4000 visas applications every day, which is quite difficult to handle. The applicants include both male and female elders and youngsters.

How people’s businesses are being affected?

The new visa policy deters the traders on both the sides of the Durand Line, after a series of persecutions by Pakistan’s government on Afghan refugees started in the year 2012, a large percentage of Afghan refugees have been mistreated and were forced to repatriate to their homeland, due to which their businesses have been intercepted as they had to find new markets for their businesses. Many of the traders stayed back in Pakistan to continue their businesses, initially they were free to travel to Afghanistan and back, because there were no special rules pertaining to visa at that point in time.

How cultural relations among people on both the sides of Durand Line are affected?

People living on the both sides of the Durand Line are predominantly Pashtuns, having prolonged relations and cultural proximities for centuries. i.e. those Afghans who have immigrated to Pakistan have knotted ties with the local Pashtuns in the KPK Province, the are facing grave complications when it comes to visiting each others and crossing the points, because they have to fulfil all the newly imposed visa requirements.

Afghan students are affected

Afghan students in Pakistan are also among the sufferers created by visa regulations. Regardless of the hitches that the students bear they also have to fulfil the visa requirements and other necessary formalities, Students miss their classes, assignments, and other important academic activities due to the lengthy procedure of visa. Students contact the Afghan Embassy but unfortunately there is no response from the Embassy.

People’s reactions to the new rules and the administrative corruption

Afghans are starving for food and other livelihood necessities, having been impacted by toxic diseases because of the long waits to get visa on time, many are financially weak and are unable to afford to provide shelters for themselves in the hotels.

Another issue which has become strenuous for people is the extensive corruption being practiced in in the consulates and the embassy itself. Muhammad Aziz, the man who spent a week in front of embassy to achieve visa expressed his concerns in an interview with ATN News: “I’m a patient and have all the treatment documents as evidence to show my illness but the officials do not issue my visa unless they are paid with a bribe of (150 or 200 USD), if it is considered to be our right then what seems to be the problem”. Moreover, Afghans claim that specified agents are hired by the consulate who are known as official brokers for helping people get the required information about the the visa procedure. A few months ago the ministry of internal affairs of Afghanistan announced the detainment of two agents who had the visas stamped for applicants in debt of paying money and further added that the security agent are on the probe to help find out more such illegal people.

What needs to be done?

In order to maintain good relations with Afghanistan and put out the visa issues the Pakistani officials should revise its visa regulations; following are the key points that should be considered by the government of Pakistan:

  1. Both the governments should work on visa-free entry towards.
  2. Visa policy should be changed and converted to a card system or online visa-tasking, if it was not likely to change and visa-on system goes on at least it should be with arrival facilities.
  3. Pakistan needs to allow the compelled applicants to make free entries with their own relevant documents i.e. students should be facilitated with making unasked entries while holding university ID cards, businessmen with their commercial papers and medical patients with medical test reports.
  4. To train the security guards working at the consulate for improving their skills of how to deal in different situations and treat applicants instead of harming and beating them.

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