Pakistan has decided that all citizens of neighboring Afghanistan will be required to enter the country with a valid passport and visa starting next month, similar to travelers from other countries, VOA learned Monday.
The landmark “one document regime” policy will replace the decades-old practice of granting special travel permits to individuals with divided tribes straddling the nearly 2,600-kilometer border between the two countries.
The “passport as the only traveling document is going to be implemented from November 1, 2023,” according to an official federal directive sent to immigration authorities at all Afghan border crossings and seen by VOA.
“No other document shall be accepted to travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan,” the document said. It instructed relevant authorities to make necessary arrangements and advertise the decision in “visible places” at all crossing points along the border.
The government has yet to make a formal announcement about the new policy. Pakistani Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said Monday that he would discuss in detail Afghan-related policy matters at a news conference on Tuesday.
A senior Pakistani official confirmed the new travel rules for Afghans to VOA, saying Islamabad hopes Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities will cooperate in implementing the decision. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The official said Islamabad was hopeful Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities would cooperate in implementing the “one document regime” decision to help deter illegal crossers, including militants and smugglers.
“Since the Taliban have brought normalcy and good governance in the country, they will comply with the international norms governing the conduct of bilateral relations, including the visa regime,” the Pakistani official said.
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the new travel requirements.
Passengers and trade convoys travel through the northwestern Torkham and southwestern Chaman border crossings between Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan. Several other crossing points are used only for bilateral and transit trade activities.
The passport and visa requirement will primarily hit divided tribes in the Pashtun-dominated southern Afghan province of Kandahar and surrounding border areas.
Thousands of tribespeople travel through the Chaman border crossing daily to meet family members on the Pakistani side or in search of work and return home before sunset. They use a slip of paper, locally called tazkira, granted to them under the so-called easement rights that guarantee free travel.
The new policy comes amid a nationwide crackdown on Afghans living illegally in Pakistan or not renewing their visas.
Last Thursday, Pakistani caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani announced that his government would deport illegal Afghan and other foreign immigrants.
The move will likely hit about 1 million Afghans, including those who took refuge in the country after the hardline Taliban swept back to power in Kabul two years ago.
Pakistanis must possess a passport and valid visa to visit Afghanistan.
Jilani said that officially registered Afghan refugees and those with legal documents would not be asked to leave Pakistan. “But those who have come here illegally, whether Afghans or nationals of any country, will have to go back to their respective countries. We will strictly implement the policy.”
Amnesty International renewed Monday a call for Pakistani authorities to stop harassing and arbitrarily arresting Afghans seeking refuge.
“Many Afghans living in fear of persecution by the Taliban had fled to Pakistan, where they have been subjected to waves of arbitrary detentions, arrests, and the threat of deportation,” Amnesty said on X, formerly Twitter.
“It is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention,” the rights watchdog wrote.
Pakistani police have, in recent days, arrested hundreds of Afghans in raids in and around the capital, Islamabad, saying they did not possess valid visas and would be deported back to their country.