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Hussain Zahedi was a journalist with Aftab Weekly, Kabul’s first publication established after the fall of the Taliban in 2002. He was among the first Afghan journalists to be arrested and imprisoned due to his exercise of free speech and revelations of corruption by Afghan officials. He escaped from prison, fled Afghanistan, and eventually landed as a refugee in Canada. He recently returned to Pakistan to see family members and uncovered the following corruption activities during some dealings with both high and low level officials at the Consular Office of Afghanistan in Quetta, Pakistan. Zahedi is now a journalist active with Kabulpress.org.
I am an Afghan native, but currently am legal resident of Canada where I was granted political asylum. I visited Quetta recently to see family members. I offered to help a family member who needed a document to confirm their nationality from the Afghan Consulate there. Initially, the staff refused to provide this document, but pressing further I met with the second in command of the Consul, Mr. Pashtun. I was told that I could have the letter if I paid 30,000 Pakistani Rupees, which is $372 U.S. The average Afghan worker earns $200/month; this fee of 30,000 rupees would be the equivalent about $2,000.00 for the average American worker. A U.S. passport costs an American citizen $100 or less.
Other people were in the Consulate waiting room, and I asked several if they had been told to pay high fees too. An elderly man told me he had to replace a lost Afghan ID card for his daughter, and an Embassy worker had charged him 5,000 rupees. He complained that no one in the embassy did any work; they were just there to collect money that went into their own pockets.
A young man, about 25 years old, said that he had been denied an Afghan passport, but met with Mr. Pashtun, and after paying Mr. Pashtun 9,000 Rupees received his passport. “With money, you can get anything here,” the man said.
Another young man, dressed in an Afghan National Army uniform complained that he had to pay money for a required document. At first he refused, but after waiting three days, finally paid and received the document.
The consul has a secret price list for documents. A passport can be had for 9,000 rupees and 3 photos. A one-page letter from embassy to embassy confirming an individual is an Afghan citizen costs 30,000-50,000 rupees. A to-whom-it may-concern letter confirming Afghan citizenship costs 5,000 rupees.
In fact, Afghan consuls are forbidden by law to collect these types of fees. To do so is corruption and bribery. In my conversations with officials at the Quetta Consulate, they said they received $10,000 per day in fees. Working for the Afghan government is a good paying job.
Returning to the consul, I asked several times, if someone comes in with money for a passport without any ID, and the consul suspected he might be a terrorist, would that person be given a passport? The official replied,”it is none of my business who they are, as long as they pay the fee, nothing else matters.”
I decided to test the system and said I would like to buy a passport for myself. I paid the money, and a few days later a new official Afghan passport in my name arrived.
I then made an appointment with a Mr. Mohseni, a high administrative officer at the consul, and asked if he knew this kind of corruption was going on in his office. Did he know that people were being forced to pay for documents that should be free to Afghan citizens? Did he know that anyone without any proof could get an Afghan passport—if they paid? Mohseni said that I would need evidence to make claims like these. But I saw it with my own eyes, heard the corruption with my own ears, and I have photographs I took with my mobile phone of the passport I was able to purchase.
Following the publication of this story in the Kabulpress.org Dari pages, my uncle, who lives in Quetta, said he had received threatening calls on his telephone.
I called Mr. Pashtun to protest the threats. He said he would see that they were stopped. He also said that he was “close to President Karzai” and that he would put in a complaint about Kabulpress.org, but didn’t say when.
With such an easy way to obtain Afghan passports so close to the areas where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are active, there is no telling how many passports have been given to suicide bombers and members of terrorist groups. Afghanistan has an embassy and two consuls in Pakistan.
News of this type of bribery and corruption should be of great concern to American and other military forces hoping to stop terrorists from entering Afghanistan. President Obama’s stated goal for Afghanistan is that it not be a haven for terrorists. One hopes that he investigates thoroughly if his friends in Afghanistan are truly working toward this goal and the interests of the people of Afghanistan.