Taliban didn’t take away passports: Afghan visa agency

Taliban didn’t take away passports: Afghan visa agency

It asks India to revoke order cancelling issued visas.

A week after the Government of India cancelled all existing visas for Afghan nationals wanting to travel to India, and instituted the “e-visa only” system after reports that Taliban gunmen had stolen many passports, the sole Indian visa agency has denied any passports have been lost or misplaced.

In a letter to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), a copy of which The Hindu has seen, owners of Shahir Travel Agency that has handled Indian visas since 2009, have asked the government to revoke the order dated August 25, and also to expedite the e-visa system to enable genuine cases of students, businesspersons, and others associated with India in the past who could need to leave Afghanistan urgently.

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“We have written to the Government of India with our very legitimate concerns… The problem this fake news has created is that the current personnel in power [Taliban] have been accused of something they did not do and that puts all our Kabul staff in danger. Therefore, we have to publicly and vociferously refute all the fake news in the Indian media,” Muhammad Karim, CEO of Shahir Travel Agency (STA), the sole Indian Visa Application Centre (IVAC) in Kabul, told The Hindu.

According to Mr. Karim, Taliban representatives now in charge of Kabul had visited their offices, along with other offices and businesses in the city, but at no point were passports containing Indian visas taken by them or misplaced.

“All the visas that were issued by the Embassy were done so after complete security check in Kabul. NIC (National Informatics Centre of India) maintains details of all visa sticker issued and biometrics captured,” the agency’s letter said, adding that the government could match the passport holders at any time required.

No comments from MEA

MEA officials declined to comment on the letter sent by STA. They said it was unlikely that the government would revoke its decision, given uncertainty over the security situation in Afghanistan, and particularly after the deadline for all foreign troops to leave the country expires on Tuesday. As The Hindu has reported earlier, the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has delayed issuing any e-visas, as it is difficult to conduct security checks on applicants without local inputs as the Indian Embassy in Kabul is shut down.

On August 27, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the decision to cancel thousands of visas previously issued to Afghan nationals had been made following reports of people “raiding one of our outsourcing agencies, where Afghan passports with Indian visas were there,” but did not mention who was responsible for the reports. Several media agencies had suggested that the worry was that a Pakistan-backed group or intelligence agencies may have taken the passports in order to use them for terror attacks in India.

‘Office operating normally’

Mr. Karim flatly denied the possibility. He said the agency would not jeopardise Indian interests, having worked closely with the embassy for more than a decade. He also stated that the STA office was operating normally at present, and Afghan citizens who had deposited their passports for the Indian visa were being returned their travel documents, as and when they were able to visit the agency.

“We sincerely hope to begin our association with the Embassy of India whenever Indian Officials chose to return. But we definitely feel we deserve the support of Government of India and do not wish to be left in the lurch. We request that this be clarified immediately by MEA on a public platform,” the agency said.

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To a question on how many passports were in their custody, the STA said it was still bound by a contract with the Government of India and could not divulge details.

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