The ex-Soviet countries are notorious for difficult paperwork and expensive bureaucracy. The Central Asian republics are just example of this draconian governments. From my previous experience in Central Asia, the visa fee for Uzbekistan was 75$, Kyrgyzstan 55$, and 5 day transit visa for Kazakhstan was 35$. For Indonesian passport holders, the matter was complicated with ‘Letter of Invitation’. This is a procedure where someone should be our sponsor during our stay in the countries. The Letter of Invitation (LOI), or in Russian: priglashenie, or in embassies’ term: calling visa, then should be sent by the sponsoring organization to be then authorized by the ministries of foreign affairs of the appropriate countries. The process can take weeks. Fast service from Internet cost me 30$ per LOI.
I am aware of these complexities of obtaining Central Asian visas. I have contacted my embassy in Tashkent who told me that they could arrange the ‘calling visa’, or LOI, or whatever its name, free of charge. And with the invitation from embassy, it’s almost 100% guaranteed that the invitation will be approved by the concerning countries.
I sent an email to the ambassador of Indonesia in Tashkent as early as June this year. They agreed to arrange for me visas for Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. For Turkmenistan, it was very difficult.
All of the invitations were approved, painlessly, as I was invited by embassy. But the Central Asian republics, except Kazakhstan maybe, have a very mysterious way of working. They just made a phone call to the embassy, “hey, the visa support is approved,” without giving any prove or calling visa index.
I came to Kabul after the bumpy journey from the Central Route full of worry. I have contacted Indonesian embassy in Tashkent for many times to ask for proof of Tajik visa approval or visa number, but they couldn’t supply me any. According to them, the Tajik officers said that I just needed to go to their embassy in Kabul to pick my visa.
The requirement of getting the Tajik visa in Kabul is an introduction letter from home embassy. When I visited my embassy in Kabul they were also asking for calling visa proof, which I couldn’t provide. They gave me an introduction letter anyway.
Wednesday, September 24, 2006, I went to the Tajik embassy in Kabul, full of confident. The embassy was very difficult to find, hidden in small alleys of Wazir Akbar Khan. Apparently it has moved to a new address, from St.10 to St. 13. The flag of Tajikistan seemed had never been changed for centuries, as the colors were bland already, and the coat-of-arm of the country at the middle of the flag had been invisible. What an embassy flag.
Just arrived there, the security guards told me to come back 2 weeks later. I misunderstood as 2 hours. But then when I realized, it was indeed 2 weeks. The consul went home to Tajikistan for 2 weeks, and thus the visa application is closed for meantime.
“What an embassy!” my friend working in Indonesian embassy in Tashkent cried, “that is an embassy or a shop? When the owner goes for holiday, the embassy closes just like that? If they don’t have mood of working, then why don’t they close their embassy for good?” The consular staffs in Indonesian embassy in Tashkent were so much agitated, and they called immediately to Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, for confirmation.
After fighting for two days by telephone, at last the Tajik ministry of foreign affairs agreed to send the visa support by fax. It was indeed a long debate which I prefer not to know. When the visa support was sent by fax to the Indonesian embassy in Tashkent on Thursday morning, the Indonesians were terribly busy as the embassy ladies were going to have cooking show on Uzbekistan National TV.
I received my visa support on Thursday night. But I had to wait until Sunday to apply for the Tajik visa, as Fridays and Saturdays are holidays for most offices in Afghanistan.
This time I am more prepared. I have talked to the Consular diplomat of the Indonesian embassy in Kabul to arrange someone to accompany me to go to Tajik embassy. Mr Hamdani, the head of consular section, agreed to try his best, but he couldn’t promise me anything.
Sunday morning Mr Kasim and I went to the Tajik embassy with diplomatic car. The Tajik embassy, as before, looked very deserted. The guard also told Mr Kasim that the embassy was closed for 2 weeks. After a short debate, the guard told him that it might be possible to get visa from the Ambassador’s residence.
We went to the Ambassador’s residence. Here, the national flag was even risen upside-down, half the pole. Doesnt look like they respected their own flag. This time Mr Kasim didn’t allow me to get out of the car. Everything would be handled by himself. To our surprise, our embassy driver was a close friend of the Tajik ambassador’s driver. To this (Afghan style) connection, Mr. Kasim successfully met the only one left Tajik officer in the office. They went inside and talked.
After 10 minutes Mr. Kasim came to the car, asked 150$ from me for the payment of the visa. “150$ 3 waiting day, 200$ 2 waiting day, 250 $ same day service,” said him to me. I didn’t mind to wait for 3 days. I chose the cheapest price. But I reminded him, “Don’t forget to include the GBAO restricted area in the visa.”
He went back to the embassy office.
After 10 minutes, he came again. This time he asked for 100$ more. “It’s very difficult. They at first quoted 150$ extra. But I bargained down to 100$. They said GBAO was difficult. The consul is going to leave soon, so there was no choice.”
I got the visa after 20 minutes, with an unbelievable, rip off price of 250$.
“I never see an embassy like that,” said Mr. Kasim, our embassy staff, “the embassy is actually closed. The only man there was vice-ambassador. He was wearing singlet and short only, just like someone in holiday. If you want to wait for 10 days, then the price is 150$, and it’s still not guaranteed that you get the visa. At least we got the visa now.”
But 250$ for a Tajik visa is very expensive price. I have got the visa approval from Dushanbe which means that visa fee should be cheaper for me, 70$. But now is special, the Tajik embassy is in long holiday, maybe for their independence day. And the only one Tajik diplomat is going to leave the office the day after. We had no choice, but to pay. Otherwise no visa until 14th of this month. I couldn’t wait that long, as my Kyrgyz and Uzbek visa would be expired by the time.
The Tajik embassy is notorious for dirty practices. My friend works in UN told me that the visa fee was bargainable from 120$ to 60$. “I can’t believe that we can bargain for visa like in bazaar,” said her. I was not that lucky, I applied at wrong time, with wrong officer. Mr. Kasim said that the visa officer he saw even had already stickers of visa in his pocket, and issuing visa was like spreading coins. An Afghan businessman, also applying visa when I was there, paid 500$. He also had to rush to Tajikistan as his Kyrgyz visa would be expired also. There is for sure visa mafia that backdoor visa without support letter (a must for business visa) still can be obtained with astronomical price.
I felt disappointed with the price. My visa support from Dushanbe also was completely useless. But I also felt very relieved, that I got the visa, in almost impossible situation. Apparently only special persons are accepted to apply for visa these days. If it was not my embassy that helped me, I wouldn’t get the visa all together.