DFAT Country Report
26 March 2014
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1. Purpose and Scope ..................................................................................................... 3
2. Background Information .............................................................................................. 3
Recent History ............................................................................................................................ 3
Economic Overview ................................................................................................................... 4
Political System .......................................................................................................................... 6
Security Situation ....................................................................................................................... 6
Demography ............................................................................................................................... 7
Human Rights Overview ............................................................................................................ 8
3. Refugee Convention Claims ........................................................................................ 9
Race/Nationality ......................................................................................................................... 9
Religion .................................................................................................................................... 10
Political Opinion (Actual or Imputed) ...................................................................................... 12
Groups of Interest ..................................................................................................................... 12
4. Complementary Protection Claims ............................................................................ 16
Arbitrary Deprivation of Life ................................................................................................... 16
Death Penalty ............................................................................................................................ 16
Torture ...................................................................................................................................... 17
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ......................................................... 17
5. Other Considerations ................................................................................................ 18
State Protection ......................................................................................................................... 18
Internal Relocation ................................................................................................................... 19
Treatment of Returnees ............................................................................................................ 20
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1. Purpose and Scope
This country report has been prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
(DFAT) for protection status determination purposes only. It provides DFAT’s best judgment and
assessment at time of writing and is distinct from Australian Government policy with respect to the
source country. The country report replaces the previous DFAT Country Report on Afghanistan
dated 31 July 2013.
The report does not represent an exhaustive country overview and has been prepared with
regard to the current caseload for decision makers in Australia. The report does not contain policy
guidance for decision makers.
Ministerial Direction Number 56 of 21 June 2013 under s 499 of the Migration Act 1958
Where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has prepared a country information assessment
expressly for protection status determination processes, and that assessment is available to the
decision maker, the decision maker must take into account that assessment, where relevant, in
making their decision. The decision maker is not precluded from considering other relevant
information about the country.
This report is based on DFAT’s on-the-ground knowledge and discussions with a range of
sources. It takes into account relevant and credible open source reports. Where DFAT does not refer
to a specific source of a report or allegation, this may be to protect the source.
2. Background Information
In 1978, the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) deposed
Afghanistan’s last king and seized power in the ‘Saur Revolution’. Opponents of the PDPA, which
collectively came to be known as the mujahedeen
, launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan.
Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in 1979 to support the PDPA, and remained in-country
for a decade. The United States and other countries responded to Soviet involvement by arming the mujahedeen
. Following the departure of Soviet troops and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mujahedeen
seized Kabul, declaring the ‘Islamic State of Afghanistan’. A 1992 power-sharing
arrangement was negotiated between mujahedeen
factions, but undermined by in-fighting. A
renewed civil war ensued, fought primarily between mujahedeen
The Taliban, emerging out of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, entered the conflict in
1994. By 1996 it had seized Kabul and declared the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’. In the
ensuing years, the Taliban consolidated its power and imposed an extreme interpretation of Islam,
including severe limitations on women and girls and systematic human rights abuses against
civilians (primarily non-Pashtuns). The Taliban provided a safe haven to international terrorism
elements such as al-Qaeda.
Following al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on targets in the US, international forces led by the US
launched Operation Enduring Freedom
which removed the Taliban from power. In December
2001, Hamid Karzai was chosen as leader of the ‘Afghan Interim Authority’ and the United Nations
Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition to assist
the Karzai Administration in securing the country. A Constitution was ratified in January 2004 and
Karzai was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the country’s first
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Presidential elections. Although Karzai was re-elected in 2009, the election was widely criticised,
including by the UN, for widespread irregularities.
Since 2001, a number of different anti-government insurgent groups, including the Taliban,
have waged a guerrilla campaign against ISAF and Afghan forces. ISAF assumed security
responsibility for the entire country in 2006. However, under a transition strategy beginning in
2011, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have incrementally taken over full responsibility
for security in the country, ahead of the planned drawdown of most foreign troops by the end of
2014. Some coalition forces may remain in Afghanistan after this date, dependent on the successful
negotiation of relevant security agreements.
There are many areas of the country contested by insurgent forces and no part of the country
can be considered totally free from conflict-related violence. As a result, economic development,
health care and education services are affected in many parts of the country. DFAT assesses that
uncertainty about the future security, economic and political situation is an important driver of
emigration from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s economy is recovering from decades of conflict and the period of the Taliban
regime. Afghanistan remains extremely poor, despite strong economic growth in recent years.
The World Bank classifies Afghanistan as a low income country, with an estimated
36 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. According to the 2012 UN Human
Development Index, Afghanistan is the poorest country in Asia—ranked 175 out of 187 countries
globally. Inflation, especially food price inflation, is felt most keenly by Afghanistan’s poor,
particularly those in urban areas. The rate of consumer price inflation has averaged almost nine per
cent per year for the period 2004–2012, peaking at over 23 per cent in 2008.
Since 2001, Afghanistan has experienced very strong economic growth from a very low
base. According to the IMF, between 2004 and 2012 growth in Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) averaged over nine per cent per year, peaking at over 12 per cent in 2012. In 2013,
GDP was estimated to be USD 21 billion.
Economic growth has been driven primarily by significant international funding inflows,
particularly international development assistance which is likely to have peaked in 2011. The end of
a four-year drought in 2012 boosted economic growth and the agriculture sector, which accounts for
approximately 30 per cent of GDP and almost 80 per cent of employment in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has substantial natural resources, but its mining sector is hampered by instability,
inadequate infrastructure and remoteness from markets.
Donor funds made up 65 per cent of the Government’s budget in 2012. Substantial
international assistance pledged at the Tokyo Conference in 2012 was aimed at supporting longer-
term economic development in Afghanistan. However, the relative importance of international
assistance for Afghanistan’s economy means that the progressive drawdown of the international
community is already having a negative effect on growth and the Government’s budget.
Rates of corruption in Afghanistan are among the highest in the world and Afghans
routinely pay bribes to access government services. Transparency International ranked it equal
worst (with Somalia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) in its 2012 Corruption
Perception Index. A 2012 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that
bribery was equivalent to 20 per cent of GDP. Corruption infiltrates many aspects of government in
Afghanistan and remains a key concern for international aid donors.
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Growing opium poppy is illegal in Afghanistan but is poorly policed. It is a major source of
income for Taliban and insurgent groups. According to UNODC’s 2013 Opium Survey,
Afghanistan cultivated 74 per cent of the world’s opium poppy. This equated to 5500 tons with a
total farm gate value of USD 950 million. Ninety per cent of national production takes place in the
southern and western provinces.
DFAT assesses that the low-level of development and perceived poor economic
opportunities in Afghanistan acts as a primary ‘push factor’ for both internal relocation and
emigration from Afghanistan.
Productivity and growth in the labour market are inhibited by corruption, weak government
capacity and poor public infrastructure. There are no reliable employment statistics in Afghanistan.
However, employment and underemployment are both likely to be high. In some cases, a lack of
internal security impedes individuals’ ability to reach their place of employment.
Lower wages in Afghanistan have encouraged both permanent and temporary migration to
neighbouring countries. For example, higher wages in Pakistan have traditionally attracted migrant
workers from Afghanistan, a trend which slowed as a result of the scale of international funding
inflows to Afghanistan. Seasonal employment opportunities in Iran remain important for many
Access to education has improved greatly since 2001, particularly for girls. Primary and
secondary school enrolments have increased from one million in 2002 to 7.3 million in 2011,
32 per cent of which were girls. Public education is free and available to most Afghans, but tends to
be over-subscribed. The quality of education and rates of attendance vary throughout the country.
Some children do not attend school because they are required to seek employment instead. A survey
by Afghanistan’s Centre for Policy and Human Development in 2011 estimated that 46 per cent of
children were enrolled in primary or secondary education.
In some cases, the poor internal security situation prevents teachers or students from
attending school and results in school closures. The great majority of security incidents during 2012
which affected access to education were attributed to insurgents—for example the closure of
schools in Zabul province by the Taliban in May 2013.
Although the health care system in Afghanistan has improved greatly since 2001, demand
for public health care continues to exceed supply. As a result, Afghanistan’s health indicators are
worse than the average for low income countries. For example, the World Health Organization has
estimated life expectancy to be 59 for males and 61 for females. Infant mortality (the probability of
dying under the age of five) is ranked among the highest in the world at 101 deaths per 1000 live
In some cases, ongoing a lack of internal security limits access to health services. For
example, medical staff are sometimes threatened and taken hostage, primarily in rural areas in
southern Afghanistan. Insecurity sometimes prevents medical supplies from reaching remote
communities and has also prevented the comprehensive reach of polio vaccination programs.
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The 2004 Constitution sets out the division of powers in Afghanistan’s political system. The
Afghan National Assembly is bicameral, consisting of the wolesi jirga
(‘House of People’) and the meshrano jirga
(‘House of Elders’). The wolesi jirga
has 250 seats, with members (64 of whom
must be women) directly elected for five-year terms through a system of semi-proportional
representation in a nominally free, general, secret and direct ballot. The meshrano jirga
seats, with two-thirds of members elected from provincial councils for four-year terms, and one-
third nominated by the President for five-year terms.
The executive consists of a President and two Vice Presidents elected by direct vote for five-
year terms (eligible to serve a maximum of two terms). Ministers are appointed by the President,
but require approval from the wolesi jirga
. President Hamid Karzai was elected in 2004 and re-
elected in 2009. Presidential elections are scheduled for April 2014.
In addition to the National Government, the Constitution divides Afghanistan into
34 provinces, each governed by an elected council overseen by a Governor who is appointed by the
President. Provinces are further divided into districts.
The Constitution can be amended by a Constitutional loya jirga
(Grand Council), which is
made up of members of the National Assembly and the provincial and district council chairs. A
Constitutional loya jirga
may only be convened by the Government on issues of independence,
national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In practice, it is not currently possible for a
Constitutional loya jirga
to take place, since district council chairs are yet to be appointed.
Consultative or Traditional loya jirga
s are sometimes held on matters of national importance.
Although the structures of Government are, for the most part, in place under the
Constitution, corruption is rife and institutional capacity is low. This means the ability of
Government to establish, implement and enforce policies and decisions varies across the country.
Government capacity is further constrained in areas contested by insurgents.
DFAT assesses that the uncertainty about the current and future political situation in
Afghanistan acts as a primary ‘push factor’ for emigration from Afghanistan.
Insurgent groups, including the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin
Hekmatyer and others, remain engaged in a violent armed conflict against the Government and its
international partners. In addition to these anti-government insurgent groups, there are also a
number of other local non-state militias operating within Afghanistan that exist for the protection of
particular groups and are not necessarily hostile to the Government.
The ANSF, with the support of international forces, maintains effective control over most
provinces and districts, particularly major urban areas such as Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif,
Kandahar and all other provincial capitals. In June 2013, the ANSF—including the Afghan National
Army (ANA), the Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan Local Police (ALP) and the National
Directorate of Security (NDS)—assumed the lead responsibility for security across all of
Afghanistan. However, in some parts of Afghanistan, government control is weak or absent, in part
due to ANSF capacity constraints (see ‘State Protection’, below).
There are many areas of the country contested by insurgent forces and no part of the country
can be considered totally free from conflict-related violence. The situation remains fluid and any
categorical assessment on the security in a particular area could be rendered quickly inaccurate.
Although this list is not exhaustive, contested areas are mainly in the south (including in parts of
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Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul) and east of the country (including in parts of Ghazni,
Paktika, Khost, Paktia, Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan). Insurgents are also present in areas of
western, central and northern provinces.
Insurgents regularly conduct high-profile attacks in many parts of Afghanistan. DFAT
assesses that the primary target for insurgent attacks are government institutions, political figures,
ANSF, ISAF, other security forces and international organisations. These attacks can include direct
attacks using small arms, suicide bombings, car bombs, improvised explosive devices and complex
attacks involving a combination of these methods. Although these attacks are frequently directed
against specific targets, the methods used are often indiscriminate and result in the deaths of civilian
bystanders. For example, a complex attack by insurgents against a restaurant in Kabul during
January 2014 killed at least 21 people, including 13 foreigners. The restaurant was known to be
popular with foreigners and government officials. An attack against Kabul’s Serena Hotel in
March 2014 killed at least nine people, including four foreigners.
In 2013, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 2959 civilian
deaths and 5656 injuries due to conflict, a 14 per cent increase in total civilian casualties compared
to 2012. UNAMA attributed 74 per cent of civilian deaths and injuries to anti-government elements,
11 per cent to Government and ISAF forces, 10 per cent to engagement between pro- and anti-
government forces and five per cent to other sources.
In some cases, violence perpetrated by criminal groups and insurgents can be difficult to
differentiate. There have been documented cases of abduction and killings by both criminals and
insurgents, including while travelling by road. Wealthy or high-profile individuals, or those openly
identified as working for the Government, are at higher risk of kidnap for ransom.
DFAT assesses that a lack of internal security and perceived insecurity in Afghanistan act as
primary ‘push factors’ for both internal relocation and emigration from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s population stands at over 31 million, according to a July 2013 estimate.
Ethnicity, language, religion and tribal affiliation are important markers of identity in Afghanistan.
No reliable census data is available on Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, languages and religions and
numbers can vary significantly depending on the source—the last census was conducted in 1979.
However, Pashtuns are estimated to be the largest ethnic group (42 per cent), followed by Tajiks
(27 per cent), Hazaras (9 per cent) and Uzbeks (9 per cent). Aimaks (4 per cent), Turkmen
(3 per cent) and Baloch (2 per cent) are other significant ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
Dari and Pashto are both recognised as official languages. Dari is spoken by an estimated 50
per cent of the population, Pashto 35 per cent, Turkic languages (including Uzbek and Turkmen) by
11 per cent and 30 other languages by 4 per cent of the population.
Afghanistan has experienced rapid urbanisation since 2001, particularly to major urban areas
such as Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar. Displacement as a result of conflict or natural
disasters are important factors in the decisions of many families and individuals to relocate to urban
areas. However, a lack of economic opportunity in rural areas is also an important factor in the
ongoing process of rural–urban migration.
Millions of Afghans have left the country as a result of conflict and to seek better economic
opportunity abroad. Although many have returned to Afghanistan (see ‘Treatment of Returnees’,
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below), sizable Afghan diaspora populations remain in Pakistan and Iran, and also in the US,
Europe and Australia.
DFAT assesses that the presence of Afghan diasporas serves as an important ‘pull factor’ for
Human Rights Overview
Afghanistan’s human rights infrastructure includes constitutional guarantees, adherence to
international human rights instruments and the establishment of the Afghan Independent Human
Rights Commission (AIHRC).
The Constitution enshrines many fundamental human rights, including the right to life
(Article 23), liberty (Article 24) and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention (Article 27). Some
of these rights are addressed in implementing legislation.
Afghanistan has ratified a number of important international human rights instruments,
including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the
Convention Against Torture.
The AIHRC, established in 2002, is widely regarded as a credible, independent human rights
organisation. It is accredited by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions
for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights with an ‘A’ rating (compliant with the Paris
Principles). However the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that appointments to
the AIHRC made by President Karzai in June 2013 risked compromising the Commission’s
independence and effectiveness.
However, years of conflict, lack of rule of law, a culture of impunity and corruption have
severely impacted the Government’s ability to implement human rights guarantees. In both the
public and private spheres, traditional interpretations of sharia
(Islamic law) and tribal norms
frequently conflict with internationally recognised human rights principles.
DFAT considers credible the January 2013 Report of the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, which included among key areas of
concern: the rights of women; the rights to personal freedom and security due to conflict; and the
right to a fair trial, including documentation of arbitrary detention and torture in detention.
UNAMA has also documented the widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of conflict-related
detainees held by the ANSF (see ‘Torture’, below).
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3. Refugee Convention Claims
Ethnic, tribal and family affiliations are important factors in almost every aspect of life in
Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas. For the majority of Afghans, this kinship is central to
identity and acceptance in a community, including for finding shelter and employment. As such,
Afghans prefer to live in areas where their ethnic group constitutes the local majority. Outside of
major urban areas, most Afghans are organised into ethnic-based communities with their own
traditions and customs. Even within ethnically-mixed urban areas, Afghans tend to live alongside
members of their own ethnic group.
Geographic distribution of ethnic groups is not uniform, but Pashtuns generally dominate
the southern and eastern provinces; Hazaras predominately reside in the central provinces; and
Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen in northern provinces.
Ethnic violence was widespread during the 1990s civil war and under the Taliban. For
example, thousands of fighters and civilians were killed in fighting for Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997–
1998, during which at least 2000 Hazaras were killed by the Taliban in reprisal for earlier killings of
Taliban fighters. Tensions were reduced significantly after 2001, and there has been no large-scale
ethnic violence since then. However, ethnic rivalry exists throughout the country at a local level,
and results in sporadic violence—for example, seasonal clashes over land claims and access to
natural resources between nomadic Pashtun Kuchi tribes and Hazaras. Intra-ethnic violence also
occurs from time to time, particularly between different Pashtun tribal groups.
DFAT assesses that, in the current environment, insurgents—including the Taliban—
generally do not target individuals solely on the basis of ethnicity and no particular ethnic groups
are disproportionately subject to violence. Although ethnicity or religion is sometimes a
contributing factor, the Taliban’s primary targets are the Government and its international partners.
DFAT has no evidence of any official policy of discrimination pursued by the Government
on the basis of ethnicity. No ethnic minorities are excluded from elections or political representation
under the current constitutional system, and there are no laws preventing ethnic (or religious)
minorities from participating in political life. Ethnic minorities have their own media outlets,
political parties and politically-active representatives.
Although political parties tend to be ethnically-based, no mainstream parties in Afghanistan
have made ethnicity a campaign issue ahead of the 2014 elections. There is also some evidence that
political parties representing different ethnic groups are able to work together to defend their
collective interests—for example, to prevent proposed changes to electoral laws that could threaten
some parties’ registration.
However, prejudice at the community-level (societal discrimination) exists and is
widespread. As noted above, ethnicity and tribal affiliations are an important factor in Afghan daily
life. Most commonly, societal discrimination tends to be in the form of nepotism within ethnic and
religious communities. For example, ethnic, tribal or family connections will often trump merit as
the basis for employment decisions for both government and private sector positions. These
connections are crucial in an economic environment where paid work is hard to find.
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Ethnicity is an important factor in many political and policy issues, including for
appointments to government positions and access to higher education. For example, students at a
Kabul university staged an eight-day hunger strike in front of Parliament in May 2013 in protest
about ethnic discrimination and nepotism among the university’s leadership. To counter a perceived
Hazara domination of higher education, the Government proposed in July 2013 to replace the
current merit-based system with an ethnically-based quota system for university entrance.
Legislation to implement the change has not yet passed Parliament.
The introduction of Afghanistan’s first electronic identity cards (‘e-Taskera
‘Documentation’, below) also resulted in controversy as a result of rumours that the Government
planned to ‘hide’ some information from the public—particularly ethnicity—in the computerised
Hazaras are a visibly distinct ethnic group in Afghanistan and constitute approximately nine
per cent of the Afghan population. Hazaras are overwhelmingly Shia Muslims, mostly of the
Twelver Sect (athna asharia
), with a small Sunni minority. Hazaras living in rural areas speak
Hazaragi, a dialect of the Persian (Farsi) language.
The traditional Hazara area in Afghanistan (‘Hazarajat’) lies in the central highlands and
includes the provinces of Bamiyan and Daykundi, and parts of the provinces of Ghor, Uruzgan,
Wardak and Ghazni.
DFAT assesses that, since the removal of the Taliban regime in 2001, minorities in
Afghanistan have made significant gains, albeit from a low base. Afghanistan’s Hazara community
has taken advantage of the opportunities available to them since then, particularly in politics and
education. For example, Hazara candidates won all the lower house seats in Ghazni, despite being a
minority of the province’s population. In addition, Afghanistan’s current Second Vice President
Mohammad Karim Khalili, an ethnic Hazara from Wardak Province, was appointed in 2002 and
subsequently elected to this post in 2004.
The historical enmity between Afghanistan’s Hazara and Pashtun communities, particularly
during the Taliban regime, contributes to the Hazara community’s uncertainty about the security
situation in Afghanistan ahead of the ISAF drawdown in 2014.
In general, DFAT’s current assessment is that there is currently a low risk of criminal or
insurgent violence for Hazaras in Afghanistan. Hazaras are not currently at any greater risk of
violence than other ethnic groups in Afghanistan (see also the March 2014 DFAT Thematic Report
‘Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan’).
Article 2 of Afghanistan’s Constitution establishes Islam as the official religion, but also
requires that believers of other religions should be ‘free within the bounds of law in the exercise and
performance of their religious rites.’ Article 62 requires that presidential candidates be Muslim.
There is no reliable information on the size of religious groups in Afghanistan, but
approximately 99 per cent of the population identify as Muslim. Sunnis represent approximately
80 per cent of the population and Shias 19 per cent. Other minorities, including Christians, Sikhs,
Hindus and Baha’is constitute the remaining one per cent of the population.
Mosques, clerics and religious leaders (both Sunni and Shia) have been the target of
violence and harassment by insurgents. Since 2001, numerous religious scholars and leaders have
been killed for condemning the tactics used by the Taliban insurgency as ‘un-Islamic’. In the year to
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July 2013, the UN documented 14 attacks by insurgents against religious leaders or places of
worship, resulting in seven deaths. In some of these attacks, imams were specifically targeted,
including for performing funeral rites for ANSF personnel.
There are some religious facilities for Christians in Kabul that are generally available only to
non-Afghans. There are also a number of religious facilities for Hindus and Sikhs, including in
Kabul. Many non-Muslims do not openly practice their religion because of the risk of
discrimination or violence. DFAT is not aware of any person in detention by the Government for
practising a minority religious faith.
Although there is some official discrimination on the basis of religion, in practice, DFAT
assesses that the main impediment to religious freedom in Afghanistan is societal discrimination
against non-Muslim religious minorities. Christians, Sikhs and Hindus may suffer discrimination by
the Muslim majority in the form of unequal access to government or private sector jobs and
harassment in their schools. However, violence against non-Muslim minorities is rare, primarily
because there are so few practitioners of non-Muslim religions in Afghanistan. DFAT has no
current evidence of violence against non-Muslim minorities in Afghanistan.
The Baha’i faith has been declared a form of blasphemy by the Supreme Court, and most
followers do not openly declare their beliefs.
Afghanistan’s Constitution and laws recognise some separate legal rights for Shias.
Article 131 of the Constitution provides that Afghanistan’s courts shall apply Shia jurisprudence in
certain civil cases involving Shias. In 2009, Afghanistan’s Parliament passed a Shia Personal Status
Law, which recognised differing practices on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance among
Afghanistan’s Shia community. The law commenced in July 2009, after being amended to reflect
concerns about the rights of women in the Shia community (see ‘Women’, below).
DFAT assesses that Shia Muslims (mostly Hazaras, but also the minority Ismaili sect) face a
low level of societal discrimination, primarily as a result of nepotism within the Sunni majority.
Shias have also been subject to occasional violence. For example, a bombing attributed to Pakistan-
based Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) of the Shia Abu Fazl mosque in Kabul during Moharram in
December 2011 reportedly killed at least 70 people. DFAT assesses that Shia–Sunni sectarian
violence is infrequent in Afghanistan. However, because many adherents of Shia Islam are also
Hazaras, it is not always possible to differentiate between religion and ethnicity as the basis for
discrimination or violence (see ‘Hazaras’, above).
Blasphemy and Apostasy
Afghanistan’s Constitution states that no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of
Islam. Although not stipulated in the Criminal Code, a number of ‘egregious crimes’, including
blasphemy and apostasy, may be punished according to Islamic law, which may attract the death
In July 2013, several MPs used Parliament to call for Afghans who had converted to
Christianity to be identified and executed. These statements reflect community sentiment amongst
more conservative elements in Afghanistan. The Baha’i faith has been declared a form of
blasphemy by the Supreme Court, and most followers do not openly declare their beliefs.
DFAT understands that a number of individuals may have been arrested for blasphemy and
apostasy in Afghanistan. DFAT is not aware of the death penalty having been carried out in these
cases since the Constitution was ratified in 2004.
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Political Opinion (Actual or Imputed)
Many political freedoms are enshrined in Afghanistan’s Constitution. For example,
Article 33 provides for citizens’ rights to ‘elect and be elected’ and Article 35 allows citizens to
form associations, including political parties, in accordance with the law. The 2009 Political Parties
and subsequent regulations manage the operation of parties in Afghanistan.
There are 55 political parties registered in Afghanistan, many of which represent the
interests of particular ethnic groups. Although the Constitution forbids parties from having military
or quasi-military organisations, many current parties were originally formed as insurgent groups to
resist the Soviet invasion and many may still maintain links with affiliated militias.
Elections in Afghanistan continue to be held against the backdrop of significant security and
logistical challenges—Parliamentary and Presidential elections conducted since 2001 have been
marred by widespread fraud, intimidation (of voters, polling staff and candidates) and corruption.
However, formal opposition to, or intimidation of, political parties and opposition groups by the
Government is uncommon.
Since 2001, political demonstrations have generally been peaceful and have not generated
significant opposition. A number of small parties, generally those with more liberal agendas,
consider themselves to be under threat.
Numerous high-profile political figures, including mayors, governors and members of
parliament have been targeted for assassination by the Taliban and other insurgents. For example,
former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber at his home in Kabul in
September 2011, soon after his appointment as the head of the High Council for Peace. In
October 2013, Arsala Jamal, Governor of Logar province, was killed in a bomb attack at a mosque
DFAT assesses that low-profile members of a political party are generally not subject to
discrimination on the basis of their membership of that party.
Groups of Interest
Women’s rights have improved significantly since the end of the Taliban regime in 2001
and in many respects women are now legally able to participate openly in public life. For example,
in the 2010 Parliamentary elections, women accounted for approximately 41 per cent of registered
voters and 16 per cent of candidates. Sixty-nine female candidates were elected—over a quarter of
the members of Parliament. More broadly, the Government is working to implement a National
Action Plan to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan.
However, DFAT assesses that women in Afghanistan are still frequently subject to violence,
including targeted killings, sexual violence, domestic violence and honour killings, as well as a high
level of systemic discrimination.
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The Taliban and other insurgent groups have been known to specifically target women,
especially high-profile women leaders. For instance, in July 2012, the head of the Department of
Women’s Affairs in Laghman province was assassinated, along with members of her family. In
December 2012, the acting head of the same Department in the same province was also killed.
These women were targeted due to their high profile stance on women’s rights. On 3 July 2013,
unidentified assailants shot and killed the most senior female police officer in Helmand as she was
travelling to work. Such attacks are more likely to take place in areas where the Taliban have
control, or are actively contesting control, but high-profile women may be targeted by the Taliban
throughout the country.
On a societal level, the AIHRC has documented more than 4000 cases of violence against
women from March to October 2012, a 28 per cent increase on the same period of 2011, probably
as a result of better reporting. However, reporting rates are likely lower than the actual rates, due to
a mix of cultural, social and religious factors.
DFAT considers credible the AIHRC summary report of its ‘National Inquiry on Rape and
Honor Killing in Afghanistan’ released in June 2013. Within the overall context of under reporting,
over the two-year study period, 243 honour killings and 163 cases of sexual assault were reported to
regional and provincial AIHRC offices. According to the AIHRC, 21 per cent of honour killings
were perpetrated by the victim’s husband and 15 per cent by police officers. The AIHRC report
noted that two-thirds of alleged perpetrators had been arrested, but only 60 per cent of those
arrested had been brought to trial and imprisoned.
The Afghan Government has taken some steps to protect women, including the Law on the
Elimination of Violence against Women
, issued by Presidential decree in 2009. The law criminalises
child marriage, forced marriage, rape, domestic violence and other acts of violence against women.
UNAMA’s 2013 report found that despite progress, gaps in enforcement of the law remained.
Parliamentary committees have indicated their desire to wind back aspects of the law’s operation,
reflecting community sentiment amongst more conservative elements in Afghanistan.
Article 22 of Afghanistan’s Constitution states that ‘The citizens of Afghanistan, man and
woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.’ Although there have been significant
improvements since 2001, in practice, women in Afghanistan continue to experience pervasive
discrimination in most aspects of daily life which frustrates their pursuit of personal, economic,
social and cultural rights. Discrimination is worse in areas where Taliban influence is stronger.
In some rural areas, traditional justice mechanisms, which disproportionately affect women,
frequently hold more sway than the established courts or other state protection mechanisms. For
example, Islamic clerics in the Deh Salah district of Baghlan province (a mostly Tajik community)
have issued a fatwa
that prohibits women from leaving their homes without a male relative, bars
them from attending medical clinics without a male escort, and states that all ‘cosmetic shops’ be
shut down. In some cases, traditional justice mechanisms are used to resolve disputes between
families. This includes, for example, the practice of baad dadan
, where a family offers a girl for
marriage to settle a dispute.
Arranged marriages are traditional in Afghanistan—in many cases these are forced or
coerced. Although reliable data is difficult to obtain, up to 80 per cent of marriages in Afghanistan
are forced. Women and girls may also be married according to the practice of badal
, where two
families exchange girls to minimise the high cost of marriage. Child marriages are also common.
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The Shia Personal Status Law 2009
derogated some constitutional rights for Shia women,
leaving questions of inheritance, marriage and other personal freedoms to be determined by Shia
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Homosexuality is illegal in Afghanistan. ‘Pederasty’, as homosexuality is defined, can be
punished by a long prison term under Article 427 of the Afghan penal code. Under sharia,
homosexuality may be punished by the death penalty, but DFAT is not aware of any cases in which
this penalty has been enforced.
In addition to legal constraints, the freedom to publicly identify as being homosexual is
constrained by cultural and societal mores. However, the practice of homosexuality itself is
generally more widespread and tolerated, including because of the difficulties many men may have
in finding a bride. The situation for homosexual women is even less visible because their lower
level of autonomy often makes it difficult to establish these relationships.
Children in Afghanistan continue to suffer severe human rights abuses as a result of the
ongoing armed conflict. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR), at least 1103 children were killed and injured in the first 11 months of 2012, on average
more than 20 children killed or injured per week across the country.
The Taliban continue to attack both schools and their staff—especially girls schools. The
OHCHR Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting received reports of 102 incidents of
attacks against schools and teachers during 2012, though only 25 of these incident reports were able
to be verified by OHCHR.
There are credible reports that children continue to be recruited to take direct part in
hostilities. Officially, the Government only accepts applicants over the age of 18 for the armed
forces and police. However, children may have been recruited and used for military purposes by the
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including the Afghan National Police (ANP), and pro-
government militias. The US State Department reported that the Taliban has recruited children
younger than 18, in some cases as suicide bombers or to place improvised explosive devices,
particularly in southern provinces.
Child abuse is also endemic. According to the AIHRC, this abuse included “general neglect,
physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment and forced labour to pay off family debts.” Sexual
abuse against children is widespread. The Afghan Ministry of the Interior reported approximately
100 child rapes in Kabul in 2011, but this figure is likely to be significantly lower than the actual
number of incidents. The number of arrests is low. For example, the traditional practice of dancing
boys (bacha bazi
) involves young boys from predominantly poor families being selected by
powerful men to entertain and serve them, leaving them open to sexual abuse.
Under Article 34 of the Constitution, freedom of expression ‘shall be inviolable’ according
to provisions of law. The most recent 2009 Mass Media Law
sought to clarify press freedoms and
limit government interference, but media outlets must be licensed by the Ministry of Information
and Culture. The law also prohibits the publication of materials considered to be contrary to the
principles of Islam.
Afghanistan’s media is much freer than it was under the Taliban regime, under which only
one government radio station was in operation and independent media was banned. By 2010, there
were more than 175 FM radio stations, 75 TV channels, four news agencies and hundreds of
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publications, including at least seven daily newspapers. Media diversity and freedoms are
considerably higher in Kabul than elsewhere in the country. A large number of private radio and
television stations, in addition to print and Internet-based media, routinely convey stories that are
critical of the Government. There is increased reporting of human rights abuses, with serious crimes
against women and children given prominence. Despite improvement in media diversity since 2001,
the quality of journalism in Afghanistan varies. Journalists are often poorly paid and have been
known to publish false reports for payment.
Media employees and journalists continue to face security challenges. Authorities have been
known to use threats, violence and intimidation to silence journalists who report critically on
impunity, war crimes, government officials and powerful local figures. Taliban and insurgent
groups have also been known to attack journalists and media infrastructure. Amnesty International
reported 69 attacks on journalists by security forces, insurgents and private individuals in 2012
(14 per cent down on 2011 figures). The prevailing security environment creates a dangerous
environment for journalists, even when not specifically targeted.
People Associated with the Government or the International Community
DFAT assesses that individuals working for, supporting, or associated with the Government
and the international community are at a high risk of violence perpetrated by insurgents. These
individuals are often subject to intimidation, threats, abduction and killing. In 2013, UNAMA
documented the deaths of 743 civilians and the wounding of 333, reflecting a continuing shift in
tactics of insurgents to deliberately target civilians perceived to support the Government or
international community. These attacks occurred throughout Afghanistan. In these instances it is
unlikely that the ethnicity or religion represented the primary motivation of the insurgents, but may
have been contributing factors.
In many cases, individuals working with the Government or international community will
take measures to mitigate these risks. This includes concealing their employment from their
families, not travelling with documentation that would identify them as employees of international
organisations and deleting contact information from mobile phones. Some international
organisations instruct their staff not to carry identification.
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4. Complementary Protection Claims
Arbitrary Deprivation of Life
There are credible reports of incidents of arbitrary deprivation of life by both government
security officials and insurgents in the form of extra-judicial killings and enforced or involuntary
disappearances. However, there is a lack of accurate data on the number and type of incidents due
in part to under-reporting. For example, as at January 2013, the UN Working Group on Enforced or
Involuntary Disappearances only had three outstanding cases for Afghanistan.
Insurgent groups use targeted assassinations in their campaign against the Government and
its international partners. Further, the Taliban is known to impose summary justice, such as the
June 2012 execution of a woman accused of adultery, which was videoed and placed online. During
2013, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented the killing of 19 civilians
and injury of four others as a result of death sentences and punishments carried out by insurgents.
The majority of these killings were the execution by insurgents of civilians suspected of spying for
There are also credible reports that members of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF)
and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have also committed extra-judicial killings.
For example, UNAMA reported that in May 2012 members of the Afghan Local Police shot and
killed a man during a land dispute in the Paktika Province. UNAMA also documented 182 civilian
casualties including 118 deaths and 64 injuries due to aerial operations conducted by ISAF in
Afghanistan during 2013, a decline of 10 per cent compared to the previous year.
The death penalty in Afghanistan is imposed according to the Penal Code or sharia for range
of serious offences. Since 2008, executions have been carried out for offences including aggravated
murder, murder, treason, espionage, kidnapping not resulting in death, and terrorism.
There are a number of other offences that may be punished by death, but for which no
executions have been carried out. For example, sex outside of marriage may technically be
punishable by death, but evidentiary requirements are stringent and the death penalty has not been
applied in any such cases.
Executions are generally carried out by hanging or by firing squad. The Supreme Court must
consider and uphold a sentence of death issued by lower courts against individuals convicted of
serious offences. The President must also approve executions before they can be carried out.
Convicted criminals continue to be executed by the Government. As recently as November
2012, 14 prisoners on death row from Kabul’s Pul-e-Charki prison were executed by firing squad.
Although there is no accurate data on the number of individuals who have been sentenced to death
in Afghanistan, DFAT considers credible Amnesty International’s estimate that more than 250
people remained on death row as of November 2012.
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Torture is prohibited under Article 29 of the Afghan Constitution, but there have been
credible reports that government officials (including security forces) have committed such abuses in
detention and prison facilities in Afghanistan.
In 2012, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported allegations
of torture at a number of National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Afghan National Police
facilities, based on over 100 interviews. These included beatings, suspension from the ceiling,
electric shocks, threatened or actual sexual abuse, and other forms of mental and physical abuse.
The AIHRC considered that the Government failed to hold suspected perpetrators accountable, in
some cases simply reassigning them to other detention facilities.
In January 2013, a UNAMA report found that of 635 conflict-related detainees interviewed,
more than half had experienced ill-treatment or torture whilst in detention. The Government ordered
a Presidential delegation to investigate the allegations and President Karzai consequently issued a
decree ordering the Attorney-General’s Office, the NDS and the Ministry of the Interior to take
follow-up action, including by providing equipment to officers to record investigation procedures
via video and human rights training. UNAMA has noted that it is unclear whether any of the
investigations resulted in prosecutions or other sanctions.
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment by the Taliban persist, though are
largely undocumented or publicised.
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5. Other Considerations
The ongoing insurgency, particularly in the south and east of Afghanistan means that the
Government struggles to exercise effective control over many parts of the country. As a result, the
Government lacks the ability to adequately address human rights issues, protect vulnerable groups
and prosecute human rights violators in those areas.
Despite these challenges, DFAT assesses that the Government maintains effective control in
major urban areas, particularly Kabul, all provincial capitals, including Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and
Kandahar, and the majority of other district centres.
Areas not under Effective State Protection
Insurgents maintain parallel political and judicial structures in contested areas where the
Government’s control is weaker, particularly in the south and east of Afghanistan. Due to their
inherent illegality, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) considers their existence and
resulting punishments carried out to be human rights abuses.
Insurgents also seek to propagate fear and uncertainty among the civilian population to
discourage them from cooperating with the Government and international forces. For example,
insurgents will distribute ‘night letters’ that typically threaten retribution against individuals or
The Afghan National Police (ANP) has primary responsibility for internal law and order and
plays an active role fighting insurgent groups, but does not exercise effective control across the
whole country. The capacity of the ANP to maintain law and order is limited by a lack of resources,
poor training, insufficient and outmoded equipment and political manipulation. In many cases, the
ANP will not be able to resist concerted attacks by insurgents. The notional strength of the ANP is
currently 151,000. In addition to the ANP, irregular militia units were organised into the Afghan
Local Police (ALP) in 2010 to provide defensive protection for village communities. The notional
strength of the ALP is currently 22,000.
Significant international donor effort has gone into building a credible and effective police
force. Despite extensive work to provide human rights and other training, reports of abuse persist.
UNAMA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have expressed
concerns over incidents of human rights abuses, including intimidation, extortion and sexual abuse,
by members of the ANP and the ALP.
Article 116 of the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, arranged in hierarchy
from primary local and district courts, appeals courts to the Supreme Court, whose members are
appointed by the President for 10-year terms. In cases where there is no provision in the
Constitution or laws, cases are decided according to Islamic jurisprudential practice.
The formal judicial system is hampered by underfunding, corruption and a lack of qualified
and properly trained judges and lawyers, and does not operate evenly across the country. It is
relatively strong in Kabul and the provincial capitals, but even in these areas, the judicial system
lacks the capacity to handle the volume of new or amended legislation and the large number of
cases. Attacks and threats against judges and lawyers carried out by insurgents or tribal leaders
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undermine the formal judicial system. For example, in 2013 insurgents attacked court buildings in
Kabul and Farah provinces.
While written laws governing conditions within prison and legal rights for prisoners are
often sound, the implementation of these laws is weak. Conditions within prisons and legal rights
for prisoners in Afghanistan remain poor. Challenges include delays in addressing prisoners’ cases,
limited access of prisoners to their cases and defence lawyers, deprivation of their right to be
informed about accusations against them, lack of separation of prisoners by crime type, lack of
separation of detainees from convicted persons, and use of shackles, arbitrary arrest and detention.
Lack of access to defence lawyers is particularly acute for women. The Afghan Independent Human
Rights Commission has specifically commented on widespread and deliberate violations of due
process rights, including the right to counsel, and family notification, that contribute to increasing
the risk of torture and other abuse.
In practice, the majority of criminal and civil disputes in more remote rural districts are
handled outside the formal legal system, including through sharia
and traditional justice
mechanisms, such as the Pashtun tribal code pashtunwali
. These traditional justice mechanisms
often deal with grievances and disputes (including generations-long disputes) by the convening of a
. In some cases, disputes are settled by payment as restitution (diyya
), which sometimes involves violence as a reprisal punishment.
Article 39 of the Constitution guarantees Afghans’ rights to ‘travel and settle in any part of
the country, except in areas forbidden by law’.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as of October 2013, there
were over 619,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of conflict in Afghanistan, an
increase over the previous year. Populations may be displaced from any part of Afghanistan and
areas of displacement change over time as a result of military operations or natural disasters,
including floods, earthquakes and droughts. The International Committee of the Red Cross
estimated in 2009 that 76 per cent of Afghans were displaced at least once in their lives.
Resettlement and reintegration in areas of origin is not always possible and the great
majority of IDPs, especially those displaced for long periods, will seek to move to urban areas. For
example, a large number of people from a wide range of ethnic groups have moved to Kabul since
2001. This movement to Kabul is largely the result of economic opportunity, but it is often difficult
to differentiate between economic migrants and those internally displaced as a result of conflict or
Traditional extended family and tribal community structures of Afghan society are the main
protection and coping mechanism for IDPs, particularly in rural areas. Afghans rely on these
networks for their safety and economic survival, including access to accommodation and an
adequate level of subsistence.
Large urban areas such as Kabul are home to mixed ethnic and religious communities.
Urban areas offer greater opportunities for employment, access to services and a greater degree of
state protection than many other areas, including as a result of a higher degree of anonymity for
returnees. In practice, internal relocation to urban areas can be limited by a lack of financial
resources. Internal relocation to urban areas is generally more successful for single men of working
age. Unaccompanied women and children are least likely to be able to relocate to urban areas
without the assistance of family or tribal networks.
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DFAT assesses that because of Afghanistan’s size and diversity, there are generally options
available for members of most ethnic and religious minorities to be able to relocate to areas of
relative safety elsewhere in Afghanistan. Afghans are more likely to be able to resettle successfully
when provided with a level of reintegration support beyond that provided by the Government.
Treatment of Returnees
Since 2002 an estimated 5.8 million Afghan refugees—25 per cent of Afghanistan’s
population—have returned to Afghanistan, predominantly from Pakistan and Iran; 4.7 million of
those with the assistance of the UNHCR. The rate of returns slowed in 2013 compared to previous
years. The UNHCR estimates 40 per cent of these returnees have been unable to reintegrate in their
home communities due to a lack of internal security and problems with access to land, shelter,
services and livelihoods. Approximately a third of returnees have chosen to settle in new locations,
mostly in urban areas.
Returnees generally have lower household incomes and higher rates of unemployment than
established community members. Those returnees who receive cash or in-kind reintegration
assistance on return to Afghanistan are therefore more likely to resettle successfully. Men of
working age are more likely to be able to return successfully than unaccompanied women and
children without the assistance of family or tribal networks. Returnees who have obtained foreign
language and computer skills (often as a result of their time in another country) may be best placed
to find well-paid employment, including in major urban areas. Those who have not obtained useful
skills whilst seeking protection outside Afghanistan often seek to depart Afghanistan again.
At present, all involuntary and most voluntary returnees from Western countries are to
Kabul. A high proportion of returnees choose to remain in Kabul rather than return to other places
of origin. DFAT assesses that because of Kabul’s size and diversity, returnees would be unlikely to
be discriminated against or targeted on the basis of ethnicity or religion.
Exit and Entry Procedures
A valid travel document (usually an Afghan passport) and appropriate entry visa for any
intended destination are required for legal exit from Afghanistan, including for movement across
the Afghanistan–Pakistan border. However, because of its length and rugged terrain, undocumented
movement across the border is common.
Because asylum seekers generally leave Afghanistan for interim destinations on valid travel
documents, they are unlikely to have committed immigration offences in Afghanistan. DFAT
assesses that persons returning to Afghanistan (either voluntarily or involuntarily) who have
departed illegally are rarely punished unless they are suspected to have committed other crimes by
In Afghanistan, the most reliable form of documentation is the machine-readable passports.
The e-Taskera, an electronic ID card that has been tested in 2013 also has a number of features to
prevent document fraud. Other types of documentation, including birth, death and marriage
certificates and driver’s licences, are less reliable.
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The Taskera certificate is the most common form of identification in Afghanistan. Taskeras
are printed on plain paper and include information including the bearer’s name, father’s name,
grandfather’s name, place and date of birth, place of residency, type of occupation and status of
military service. Information included on Taskera certificates is sometimes incomplete. Other than
stamped seals, Taskeras do not include any security features.
Taskera identification certificates are needed for employment, admission to schools and
universities, applications for a passport, permission to run a business and to rent, buy or sell
Official Taskeras are issued by the Population Registration Department of the Ministry of
the Interior in provinces and districts throughout Afghanistan. Generally, the required supporting
information for the issuance of a Taskera will be a copy of the father’s Taskera. Record keeping is
not centralised or computerised.
Electronic identification cards (e-Taskera) are being tested in Afghanistan. e-Taskera cards
feature biometric information including fingerprints, iris scans and digital images of the bearer. The
issuance of e-Taskeras is centrally controlled and computerised.
Old non-machine-readable passports include standard security features that offer a higher
(but not universal) adherence to standard procedures to establish identity. The biometric page
contains information on the bearer’s first name, surname (or father’s name), occupation,
photograph, date of birth, place of birth, date of issue and validity of up to five years. The passport
does not include information about a bearer’s religion.
Passports are issued by Afghanistan’s National Passport Office of the Ministry of Interior.
Generally, the only supporting documentation required is a copy of the bearer’s Taskera.
New machine-readable Afghan passports are less vulnerable to fraud than other identity
documents. These have been issued from some passport offices in Afghanistan since 2012. These
passports contain the same information as non-machine-readable passports, but their validity is
often ten years instead of five years.
Although they are not common in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Public Health has begun
issuing birth certificates through hospitals. Parents of newborn children register their births with the
Ministry of Interior’s population registration office and are issued with a Taskera after the birth is
attested by government officials. The birth of children is not always registered in Afghanistan.
There are widespread concerns regarding the availability of fraudulent identity
documentation in Afghanistan. Because the process for obtaining some documents, including
Taskeras, is largely decentralised to the provincial level, it is vulnerable to fraud. Forgeries of
Afghan documentation are able to be purchased with relative ease in many parts of Afghanistan and
Genuine documents are sometimes issued under false pretences or are sometimes issued
beyond the jurisdiction of the issuing authority. For example, Afghan overseas missions do not have
authority to issue death certificates for a death in their country of responsibility but such documents
are known to exist. DFAT has no information on how widespread the practice is. The Identity
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Checking Unit (IDCU) within the Ministry of Interior can, in many cases, verify the full range of
officially-issued Afghan identity documents.
Other forms of documentation including, for example, school, academic and bank records
are frequently forged.
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