AFGHAN CRISIS Implications To Nepal

The evacuation of over 1000 Nepalis from Afghanistan indicates that the Afghan crisis has some immediate economic implications for Nepal. However, how long term security implications of the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban are yet to be seen

Aug. 29, 2021, 10:17 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 15, No. 04, Sep. 03, 2021 (Bhadra 18, 2078) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

“I would like to inform all my near and dear ones that I left Kabul today and arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan safely. Will be back with more details in coming days,” Rajendra Aryal, country representative of FAO to Afghanistan, wrote on his Facebook wall on August 18.

“Three years in Afghanistan have passed, and it was a tough journey through several rocky roads, turbulences and difficulties. Thanks to the dedication, hard work and motivation of my international and national colleagues, and the strong support and inspiration of my family, I successfully completed this journey with several major achievements. I would like to thank all my friends and colleagues for standing by me throughout this period, and motivating and supporting me to make things happen,” Aryal had written on his Facebook wall on August 14.

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Photo courtesy: Rajendra Aryal's Facebook

Aryal was the only Nepali working in the senior-most position in Afghanistan in the UN. As he had successfully completed his three years two days before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, he is an eyewitness of the debacle of Afghanistan.

“The U.S. Government has facilitated the departure of all Nepali Gurkhas who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. It was an honor for us to welcome the first flight back to Nepal this morning after a stop in the Middle East. We are grateful for their bravery and service,” US Embassy noted on its Facebook site.

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Photo: U.S. Embassy, Nepal

Just after the fall of Afghanistan, the Nepal government called for the evacuation of an estimated 1,500 Nepalis working as security staff with embassies and with international aid groups in Afghanistan. The U.S. government is the first foreign government to bring Nepali staff safely to Kathmandu.

As there are no regular flights, Nepal has been evacuating stranded Nepalis with coordination from the United States, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom and other countries with evacuating flights.

"We have formally written to embassies requesting them for the evacuation," said spokesperson Sewa Lamsal of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal.

Lamsal said the government has also set up a panel to determine the exact number of Nepalis working in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. "The government will make arrangements for their evacuation also," she said.

As per the MoFA, over 900 Nepalis working in Afghanistan have already returned to Nepal and over 300 are waiting for a flight for repatriation since the Taliban took over Kabul on 18 August.

Rise of Taliban And Fundamentalism

The Taliban victory is likely to embolden jihadists and both Sunni and Shi’ite fundamentalists throughout the neighborhood. With weak security apparatus and poor intelligence, Nepal will need a more cautious approach.

History unfolds in ways that may appear to be totally incomprehensible to us. It may not fit into our logic, may appear to be contrary to the facts that are at hand and our own analysis, which, often guided by our prejudice, may have indicated a different outcome. As soon as the dust settles, we understand things better,” said a security analyst.

The victory of the Taliban will have regional and global significance, ideological impact on the short term and the long term implications in Nepal as well.

Nepal has to look at two fundamental realities: The importance of the Taliban victory and how the US, a superpower, will digest this humiliation and defeat and what course of action it will take. Similarly, how India’s policy will guide Afghanistan and how will it react to the upsurge of the Taliban. Given India’s past bitter relations with the Taliban, India’s security concern will increase and this will have security implications for Nepal as well.

As the US is a superpower and India is a rising superpower and the only neighbor which shares a long open border and cultural, religious and social ties closely with Nepal, India will definitely take Nepal seriously. Nepal too has very limited options in regards to the security concerns of India and toe with it to frame the broader policy on Afghanistan and the Taliban.

As the Taliban victory has tremendous significance for our region, Pakistan and India are competing intensely for their attention.

India will keep a keen eye on how the Kashmir situation is handled by the Taliban, who have now declared that they will not let their territory be used to meddle in other countries affairs.

They have assured the Chinese about their total non-interference about the Uyghur’s. The Russians have their concerns about the Chechens, and here also, the Taliban appears to have calmed their nerves.

As for Nepal, we need to observe the situation carefully and move as it unfolds. About recognizing them, we should go slow and it is better for Nepal’s interest to follow India.

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Rajendra Aryal farewell meeting at Kabul (Facebook)

China, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Qatar have indicated that they will likely recognize the Taliban. In this context, China will put pressure on Nepal to follow it. However, Nepal’s broader interest will lie with India.

Taliban In Power: What It Means For Nepal

Following the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban and the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces, many expect that terror in Afghanistan is over. With the presence so many fringes fundamentalist Jihadi terrorist outfits and weapons in their hand, returning peace in Afghanistan in short term looks merely a dream.

The recent bombings at Kabul airport by Asia's Islamic State affiliate, IS-K shows that Talibani’s have a long way to go to control all outfits. According to security experts, this is a major security threat in Afghanistan and globally. The group has a record of lethal attacks and finds the Taliban too moderate.

The Afghan offshoot of the terror organization "Islamic State," known as ISIS-Khorasan, IS-K or ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group takes its name from the Khorasan Province, an area that once included wide swaths of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia in the Middle Ages.

Afghanistan is now under the control of the Taliban. However, history indicates that terrorism in Afghanistan can not go overnight and it is a matter of concern particularly for a country like Nepal.

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Given Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohamed’s involvement in the hijacking of New Delhi bound IC-814 Indian Airlines from Tribhuwan International Airport and reaching Kandahar forcing India to release Masood Azhar, a radical Islamist and terrorist and the founder and leader of the Pakistan -based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, Nepal needs to be extra cautious on the security issues.

As this organization is very much active globally, one cannot deny the fact that Masood Azhar, who was listed as an international terrorist by United Nations Security Council, will reposition in South Asia including in Nepal. Afghanistan’s fragile state and instability will provide such groups with ample opportunities.

As Nepal and India share a long porous natural border, both countries have the same security challenges. In this regard, Nepal needs to closely share intelligence and security with India to meet the new security challenges. Nepal and Indian security forces have recently developed a better and good understanding of sharing intelligence and security. This will need further strengthening given the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Given Nepal’s security reports that a number of Nepali Muslims youth are getting radicalized, Nepali law enforcement agencies need to prepare to get information on radicalizing youth and share with Southern counterpart.

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With over 5 percent of the total population of Nepal, Islam was introduced to Nepal a long time ago by Kashmiri traders who first arrived in Kathmandu in the 15th century on their way to Lhasa. The 500-year-old Kashmiri Takiya mosque, a few hundred yards from the former Royal Palace in Kathmandu, is a testimony to this history.

Muslims lived as a silent minority for centuries at the goodwill of the Nepali state and they are moderate. Inspired by the Maoist rebels, they are radicalized a bit in recent years. They have become more vocal and visible.

With the support from International Muslim Organization, Tablighi Jamaat had hosted an international conference in Saptari close to the Indian border. Although the Nepal government had initially denied the permission, it bowed down under the pressure of Muslim stakeholders.

Despite the commitments of organizers not to allow foreign representatives except India, Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia attended the big conference.

The state started to give due respect to Muslims following the 2006 political change for their active participation in the abolition of the monarchy. Muslim festivals were declared public holidays for the first time in 2008, the year the monarchy was abolished and a democratically elected government led by Maoists took office. Recently, the number of Rohingya refugees has also increased crossing the border of Bangladesh and entering Nepal.

Although Nepal’s overwhelming Muslim groups are moderate and peaceful, some elements are always there to provoke them. Three years ago some Rohingya refugees were arrested when they made effort to travel making documents of settlement.

“As illegal migration, false documented settlement, more than twenty thousand refugees and non-state actors, bad governance, political instability/trust, economic decline, dissatisfied population, institutional corruption are risks to acts of terrorism,” wrote Major General (Retired) Binoj Basnyat in New Spotlight.

“Stern measures need to be activated by one, strengthening of the law-and-order forces, two, efficient border management procedures, three, review documentation like the citizenship and other national identification and finally immigration mechanism. These measures are prerequisites for accurate data and further course and plan of action.”

“In institutional capacity development, the administration should focus on professionalizing the institution rather than politicization. Second, the source of political instability must be painstakingly considered. Corruption, the source of the slack system of governance needs modification. Fourth, diplomatic attempts for security diplomacy as well as being part of an encouraging and even leading the regional collective arrangements will support the endeavors,” writes Basnyat.

Recent Afghanistan events showed that every country protects its own interest and protecting national interest is the prime goal of any country. Instead of harping on some rhetoric, Nepal needs to follow real politick to maximize and protect its interest.

After successfully evacuating Nepalis from Afghanistan, Nepal has made big progress, mobilizing friends to protect the life of people. Despite complications and difficulties, Nepal is successful to avert the humanitarian crisis. Ahead lies a broader issue of national interest and national security.

Nepal In South Asian Context

Although it is geographically far from the region, Afghanistan’s internal situation has always affected the South Asian countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh on a larger scale and Nepal on a smaller scale.

Whether smaller or bigger, the rise of terrorism and fundamentalism is a matter of concern for the security of the region. As a big country and closer geographically with Afghanistan, the takeover of Kabul by fundamentalists is always a big concern for India.

As Afghanistan is a member of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), it is natural for the countries to express their concerns and hold opinions on the type of regime in Kabul. Naturally, no one can support any fundamentalist, radical regime supporting terrorism. Nepal is no exception.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent tweet shows India’s concern over the Taliban. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday (August 19) said that an empire on the basis of terror may dominate for some time but its existence is never permanent. This message came amid the Afghanistan crisis after the Taliban took over the post-US troops’ withdrawal and fleeing of President Ashraf Ghani.

“The destroying powers, the thinking that builds an empire on the basis of terror, may dominate for some time in a period of time, but, its existence is never permanent, it cannot suppress humanity for a long time," PM Modi said in his tweet on August 19.

India is following a wait and watch policy on the Taliban regime focusing currently on rescuing stranded Indians and Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. However, it is taking stock of the emerging security situation.

Situated between two big neighbors India and China, with both of them having different approaches towards the Taliban, Nepal is always feeling the pressure. Given the recent statements and activities, China along with Pakistan, Russia, Iran and Turkey will likely give recognition to the Taliban in Kabul.

However, India along with the US and other western countries indicated that they will watch the actions of the Taliban before taking any decisions. Sharing long open borders with India and closer relations with the US and other western countries, Nepal’s safety course for its national security is to follow India.

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In the words of former foreign minister and scholar Rishikesh Shaha: India’s influence has been so dominant in all spheres of Nepali life that the Nepali people, by way of reaction, feel impelled to appear different from Indian at every possible opportunity. This is seen as almost essential for purposes of national identity in the context of the present-day political reality in the world.

Individuals can hold their own opinion and opinion may vary. However, following India on Afghanistan and the Taliban will serve Nepal’s broader long-term and short-term national and security interests.

However, there is a section of Nepalis, who consider themselves as staunch nationalists maintaining neutrality in Chinese actions and taking an anti-Indian stand as nationalist. They have started to float the idea for Nepal to take a different stand than India.

“In their zeal to counterbalance the tendency, Nepal’s intellectuals are inclined to misrepresent the impact and nature of Nepal’s relationship with China, which has been intermittent and never as close as its relationship with India

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