--By Shant Sharma
When Nepal partially lifted the ban on Nepalis from working in Afghanistan in 2011, the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) had defended the decision, arguing that workers would be allowed to work for selected employers including the United Nations, the NATO and Western missions. The ministry had claimed that it was safe to work for such employers as they had better safety measures in place.
But after the deaths of 13 Nepalis in a Taliban suicide attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday June 20, questions are again being asked whether the policy makers had been too shortsighted while assessing the security situation of the war-torn country. This deadly incident is the biggest tragedy surrounding Nepali migrants since the beheading of 12 Nepali migrants in Iraq in 2004.
According to the Department of Foreign Employment, at least 1,213 Nepalis have acquired work permit from the government to work in Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this fiscal year. Although exact figures are hard to come by, at least 20,000 Nepalis are said to be working in Afghanistan.
The suicide attack, however, was not the first one to claim lives of Nepali citizens in Afghanistan. More than 10 Nepalis have been killed in Afghanistan since 2011 in several attacks carried out by the Taliban. Most of the victims were working in UN camps as security guards. In July 2012, the government had to rescue 10 workers after they were taken hostage in a local town of Bagram.Despite potential security threats, thousands of Nepalis have been going to war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Lucrative pay is the main reason behind Nepalis’ growing attraction to job in Afghanistan. It is said Nepali migrants can earn from Rs 100,000 to Rs 300,000 a month in Afghanistan. Another important reason why Nepalis are attracted to work in Afghanistan is the fact that they do not require a visa, as they are directly airlifted from Dubai to various bases in Afghanistan.
It’s now established that the Nepalis killed and injured in the attack were working as security guards for the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. The minibus they were travelling in to reach the embassy was attacked at 5:40 am (Afghan time), minutes after it came out of the camp they were living in.
It’s time to mourn the deaths and wish for the speedy recovery of the injured. However, it’s also the time to ask a few simple questions: Why did the government allow Nepalis to work in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya which are unsafe for anybody and everybody? What has the government done to prevent Nepalis from going to these countries and work there risking their lives? Do those for whom the Nepalis were/are working have no responsibility towards them?
Government officials argue that the government allowed only those Nepali migrant workers who would work as security guards, especially for UN and diplomatic missions, to go to Afghanistan and that Nepalis going there for other jobs were not allowed to go. They further argue that even those Nepalis aspiring to work as security guards in Afghanistan are allowed to go to only the “green zones” or in other words, areas that are safer from such attacks. This policy of the government is not satisfactory at all, to say the least. According to our government, Kabul lies in the so-called “green zone”!
Afghanistan is a country where blasts or gunfights occur almost on a daily basis. Almost everybody in Nepal, the government included, knows that even suicide attacks are quite common there. In fact, such attacks, as illustrated by the June 20 bombing, have become the norm there. The attack was the first attack in Kabul since the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan two weeks ago. The last attack in the Afghan capital on 19 April left 64 dead and more than 340 wounded.
Almost all such attacks in Afghanistan are carried out by the Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency against the Western-backed Kabul government since they were ousted from power by a US-led invasion in late 2001. If the past 15 years are anything to go by, it would be wise to expect such attacks in the future as well. Because what the West calls terrorism is in fact patriotism for the brainwashed Taliban fighters. So, the conflict there is unlikely to come to an end anytime soon.
That leaves the choice with the Nepal government. According to reports, most of the Nepalis working as security guards in Afghanistan are former soldiers or security personnel. So, the argument that they are familiar with war-like situations and are ready to risk their lives may hold true. But this argument doesn’t mean that the government can shy away from its responsibility of preventing its citizens from going to countries like Afghanistan which have death traps lying in wait for anyone, anywhere and anytime.
A couple of days after the deadly Kabul attack, the government banned Nepalis from going to four countries for work – Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq. Better late than never. However, the ban alone is not enough.
There are manpower companies in Nepal that are supplying security guards to foreign private companies which are stationing them at UN and diplomatic missions in war-stricken countries. The government should, without any delay, ask these companies to stop doing that or face action. Besides, the government should also launch awareness campaigns in the country that countries like Afghanistan are unsafe for any kind of job. Similarly, it should make arrangements for the safe return of those Nepalis who are already there.