Dozens of Afghan journalists who fled from their country last year after the Taliban took over Kabul face an uncertain future in Pakistan as they wait anxiously for the renewal of their visas to remain in the country and continue their struggle to repatriate to European countries or the US.
Journalists who fled from Afghanistan to mainly Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta complain that they are getting no help from even the international organisations and NGOs.
Malik Muhammad Afzal, an official who works for the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s visa department said the visas could be extended this week but they had to get approval from the country’s intelligence agencies.
The Pakistan interior ministry had given clearance for special issuance of visas for all media personnel who wanted to move from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover fearing repercussions for their reporting and work, Nasrin Shirazad who worked for the Ariana News in Kabul said.
The mother of three fled via the eastern province of Nangarhar immediately after the Taliban took power in August 2021 and she got a letter on her doorstep threatening her with dire consequences for her “sins” and infidel work.
The Taliban have denied issuing any such letter and termed it as a ‘fake’.
The female anchor and broadcaster says now NGOs and other western countries and organisations whom she had approached to move to another country say there is no proof she faces any threat in Afghanistan.
But Shirzad said her work as a journalist has earned her and her family many such threats over the years.
It was a big relief for my family when we finally got a visa to evacuate to Pakistan in February but now the visa has expired.
Other Afghan journalists are also awaiting visa extensions from the Pakistan government and for the moment they have been told by their landlords to leave their premises or they will be evicted.
Without a valid visa I can’t rent any place in Pakistan neither can I receive any financial help from any NGO or relatives, friends in Afghanistan, Abdullah Hameem, a journalist with leading Afghan broadcaster Tolo TV said.
Currently, there are said to be around 200 Afghan journalists on the run and they all communicate through a WhatsApp group.
Hameem said many journalists who worked full-time in the more progressive landscape in Afghanistan for more than a decade before the Taliban took power have fled to Pakistan or some other neighbouring countries for fear of retribution for their work.
Many of these journalists are former female broadcasters and anchors like 26-year-old Sodaba Nasiry who worked for the former Afghan parliament’s television channel and left Kabul for Pakistan the day the Taliban stormed Kabul.
She said her visa expired this month, leaving her unable to rent a room legally.For now, she is staying with an Afghan widow in Islamabad.
Nasiry is presently undergoing treatment for depression and is facing acute financial problems which have also not allowed her to take proper medical treatment.
She said all her e-mails and applications to the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the German, French, Italian, and Canadian embassies have given no positive replies to requests for any assistance.
A report by media watchdogs last month confirms that Afghanistan has lost nearly 40 percent of its media outlets and just under 60 per cent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.
There were 2,756 women journalists and media workers working in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban take over now only 656 are still working under restrictions.
Some Afghan journalists who fled to Pakistan have even paid bribes in US dollars to private agents or middlemen to get new documents or visa extensions
The emotional, legal, and financial pressures are getting too much for us now, said another journalist.