SWABI: The winter chill was still in the air on the morning of February 7, 2016, when the residents of Swabi and the Buner Khadokhel Tehsil felt that their longstanding prayers for a regional passport office exclusively dealing with them was opened in the area.
Unsurprising then that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) president Ameer Muqam and adviser to the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was given a warm welcome in Swabi.
“We [PML-N] have fulfilled the promises we made to the party’s president in Swabi Iftikhar Ahmed Khan,” Muqam had said to rapturous applause from the public. But what was supposed to bring relief has been proving to be nothing but a nightmare for residents of the twin districts of K-P.
A senior official at the passport office, speaking to The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity since he was not allowed to speak to the media, said that they have been suffering from poor connections with disrupting their link with the headquarters in Islamabad every day.
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As a result, people who have travelled to the regional passport office (RPO) from remote areas of Khadokhel Tehsil and Swabi, have to wait for hours for their applications to be processed. Most even have to wait for their turn to arrive the next day. “Since militant groups are still active in the district, several police encounters have taken place next to our office,” the official said, noting that the incidents of terror make the location of the RPO, at Aman Chowk (Peace Square), sound ironic.
“We fear that we are sitting ducks to them [militants], we want the office to be shifted to a more secure location so that we can provide services to our customers [in peace],” he said.
The official added that they had repeatedly urged their superiors to relocate their office and to provide basic facilities. “We do not have a washroom for women at the facility, as a result women and minors have to use the washroom located inside the director’s office,” he explained.
“The facility was set up in a rented office on the third floor of a plaza by the federal government to financially support their former regional president of the party, otherwise we may have had had a smaller space for accommodating over 300 to 400 applicants we get every day from five Tehsils,” he added.
Imad Khan, an applicant at the office told The Express Tribune that he was on his third trip to the office.
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“On the first day, I submitted the fee, but when I came to the office, they said that services at the office had been suspended due to a camera malfunction while the biometric system to was out of order as well,” Imad said.
“I returned the next day but the same problem persisted. Today, I have been informed that they do not have any connectivity with the headquarters in Islamabad. These are the issues applicants face every day,” he complained.
Shadgai Bibi, an elderly woman waiting for her turn at the centre, told The Express Tribune that she wishes to perform Umra and needs a passport. However, when she arrived at Aman Chowk, she was astonished to learn that the office was located on the third floor.
“I was helped up by my grandson and son, but despite the efforts, I was told that the machines at the facility were not working and now we are leaving without having my passport processed,” Shadgai complained.
“If government aims to provide facility to the public, why not purchase land and build its own building on the ground floor with easy access to avoid such a tiresome hike,” she said.
According to data from the Overseas Pakistani Foundation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, workers hailing from these five tehsils of K-P contribute a healthy chunk of foreign remittance to the country and make up for around five per cent of the people from the province who are employed abroad.
The facility serves over 2.9 million residents to the twin districts of Swabi and Buner’s Khadokhel Tehsil, despite that the mismanagement at the officer level, malfunction of machines and lack of connection to the headquarter delays processes, the officer added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2017.