Like thousands of his compatriots, Abdul Khaled Nabar waited outside the main passport office in Afghanistan to apply for the prized travel document that would allow him to leave the war-torn country.
With the Taliban making massive advances in the countryside as foreign forces finish their withdrawal, many Afghans – those with the means at least – are looking for a way out.
“If the situation gets worse, we may have to leave,” said Nabiar, 52, who feels particularly vulnerable because he ran a shop at a NATO military base.
Not everyone will make an immediate exit but most want the safety net – knowing that they can leave in no time.
Nabiar added: “People want to be prepared in advance in case something goes wrong.”
Dozens begin lining up at the passport office in Kabul before dawn most days, and by eight in the morning, the queue already stretches for a hundred meters.
Applicants slowly progress forward, holding clear plastic folders containing their documents. Every once in a while, a police officer is needed to rein in queue jumpers trying their luck.
One official seemed exasperated by the interest the journalists showed in the crowd.
“Having a passport is a normal request for any Afghan,” she said.
But in recent weeks, the numbers of applicants have been anything but normal.
“We get about 10,000 people a day compared to the usual 2,000,” said one police officer.
Khalilullah, a 36-year-old engineer, arrived at 5 am with his wife and three children.
“There were already 300 people in line,” he told AFP, more than three hours after he joined the waiting list.
Applicants need to have their photos, biometric eyes, and fingerprints taken as part of the process, with a comprehensive security look over them for good measure.
Zeenat Bahr Nizari had been waiting for hours when she spoke to AFP.
“When we were kids, our families said the Taliban… killed people, made them disappear,” said the 23-year-old computer science student.
“They were violent towards women, they did not allow them to educate and deprived them of their basic rights.”
While Nazari is too young to remember the Taliban’s first mandate, from 1996 to 2001, she knows what they’ve done since then.
“The only thing I know is that the Taliban is facing terrorism – fighting, suicide bombings and bloodshed,” she said.
“When you go to school or university, you hope for a bright future, but if the Taliban takes power, the hope for a bright future will disappear.”
Many of those in line had no idea where they would go if given the opportunity – or whether any other country would get them.
Most countries require Afghans to jump through hoops to get a visa, with vast amounts of documentation required along with proof of financial stability that few have.
With that, everyone wants to be prepared.
“Our lives are in danger,” said Sardar, 52, who declined to be identified because he feared for his life after working as a translator for a British civil society group.
Interpreters for foreign forces and embassies have been particularly vulnerable to Taliban reprisals, and many countries have evacuated thousands under emergency visa schemes.
Former civil servant Haji Syed Muhammad Soltani wants a passport, but can’t imagine becoming a refugee again – as it was when the Taliban took control of the country, the Soviet invasion and the civil war that preceded it.
“As long as Afghanistan is livable, we will not leave our country,” said the 45-year-old.