NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP
A stampede in eastern Afghanistan has killed at least 15 people who lined up for hours at a soccer stadium to apply for visas to Pakistan. The victims were mostly women and more than a dozen were left injured, Reuters reported.
Officials and media reports said the incident occurred on Wednesday when thousands of Afghans gathered at the stadium in Jalalabad city, the capital of Nangarhar province, after they were directed there to prevent large crowds from gathering at a nearby visa center.
Photographs show the stadium grounds jammed with people waiting to collect tokens as part of a system to determine how many visas would be processed that day. Images published the same day show a wooden coffin being loaded into an ambulance.
Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan tweeted that he was deeply saddened by the news.
Pakistan's embassy also expressed its deep grief over the accident in a statement and said it would continue issuing the visas. Around 10,000 people were reportedly present at the stadium at the time of the stampede, which reportedly took place as the tokens were being distributed to the crowd.
The rush to apply came after Pakistan said it would be issuing visas to Afghans again after a halt to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The new policy issues multiple entry visas to Afghan nationals visiting Pakistan for medical treatment, business, education and other purposes.
Demand has been particularly high in Afghanistan, where conflict rages on and medical facilities are chronically ill-equipped. Pakistan's embassy in Kabul issued over 2,000 visas to Afghans on a single day on Oct. 12.
Before the pandemic, many Afghans travelled to Pakistan in search of jobs or medical treatment. The country remains home to millions of Afghan refugees who fled over the border during years of deadly conflict.
The Afghan government and the Taliban, whose ties to Pakistan have frayed relations between the two countries, began holding historic peace talks last month. But violence continues. The stampede happened a day after at least 36 Afghan police were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.