Turkey halts diplomatic visa agreement with Afghanistan

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey announced on Wednesday the suspension of a visa exemption agreement with Afghanistan for holders of diplomatic passports, Turkish media reported.

According to the Daily Sabah, a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette stated that the 2008 agreement on mutual visa removal for diplomatic passport holders would be suspended starting June 1.

While Turkish authorities did not provide a reason for the suspension, the decision came shortly after a visit by Turkish migration officials to Afghanistan. A delegation from Turkey’s General Directorate of Migration visited Afghanistan earlier this month to discuss the irregular migration of Afghan nationals to Turkey and the deportation of irregular migrants back to Afghanistan.

The suspension affects all Republic VIPs based in Doha who hold diplomatic passports, as well as Taliban leadership.

Turkey has been a major destination for Afghan irregular migrants, both before and after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. According to Turkish media reports, Afghan nationals top the list of irregular migrants intercepted by authorities. As of May, more than 27,000 Afghan irregular migrants had been intercepted, according to figures from the General Directorate of Migration.

Turkey has no formal diplomatic relations with Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover but maintains a chargé d’affaires in the country while continuing its humanitarian aid efforts. Most recently, it sent a train carrying aid to Afghan towns affected by devastating floods. Earlier this month, Turkish Airlines resumed flights to Kabul after a three-year hiatus.

Reasons behind Turkey’s decision to revoke the agreement

Political passports were previously used by both the Taliban and officials of the former Afghan government. Many of these former officials residing in Turkey have legal residency status, and according to two diplomatic sources, the revocation has minimal impact on them.

However, these sources indicate that since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the group has heavily utilized these passports, often traveling to Turkey with large delegations.

The sources noted that after taking over the Afghan Consulate General in Istanbul, Taliban officials frequently informed the Turkish embassy in Kabul only a day or two before their visits, complicating management for Turkish authorities.

One source suggested that another reason for this decision is a shift in Turkey’s perception of the Taliban, viewing the move as a form of pressure on the group.

In October of last year, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s Foreign Minister, traveled to Turkey under the pretext of illness but engaged in political meetings, which reportedly upset the Turkish government.

A diplomatic source told Amu that Turkish officials feel the Taliban have failed to meet their expectations, as the ruling party in Turkey had hoped the Taliban would allow girls to attend school and form an inclusive government.

Turkey’s decision was made during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. According to sources, “this decision marks a significant setback in Taliban-Turkey relations.”

Another source mentioned that Turkey’s cancellation of the diplomatic visa agreement with Afghanistan is due to three reasons, unrelated to its relations with the Taliban.

The primary reason is security. Turkey does not want to appear insecure or allow individuals from the former government or the Taliban to use the country as a transit point to Europe or the United States.

Another reason is immigration. The Taliban had issued political passports to several individuals, causing Turkey to be concerned about managing these passports and preventing Taliban members from entering Turkey through this channel.

The source also mentioned that the Taliban had previously asked Turkey to impose restrictions on political passports because some opposition groups had entered Turkey and held meetings.

Afghan political passports are visa-exempt in 36 countries.

The Taliban control the consulate in Istanbul and have two low-level representatives at the Afghan embassy in Ankara.