Search of Nepal’s role as SAARC chair in Afghanistan crisis

Khemraj Thapa

August 24, 2021


Search of Nepal’s role as SAARC chair in Afghanistan crisis

In this image provided by the US Air Force, aircrew prepare to load qualified evacuees aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 21, 2021. (Photo: AP)

KATHMANDU: The crisis in South Asian nation Afghanistan has deepened since the Islamist hardliner Taliban took control. The Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15.

The international community’s attention has been focused on the Taliban since it took over the reins of power in the country, ensuing a political crisis and a humanitarian crisis there.

Hordes of people trying to leave the country at Hamid Karzai International Airport is evident of the situation there. These scenes help to understand the current situation in Afghanistan.

There are also Nepalis in Afghanistan. Nepalis went to work at foreign diplomatic missions in Kabul during the Afghan war. With the Taliban capturing the state, foreign diplomatic missions in Kabul have been shutting down and rescue and repatriation of foreigners is underway.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) Spokesperson Seva Lamsal says that safe repatriation of Nepalis from there is Nepal’s first priority.

“Nepal’s entire focus is on the safety of its citizens,” she told KhabarHub. “We are coordinating with all stakeholders for the rescue of Nepalis there. We are also undertaking an important task of gathering information of Nepalis there.”

So far, 649 Nepalis have been rescued from Afghanistan and brought back home. The MoFA is preparing for the rescue of more Nepalis and is urging Nepalis living in Afghanistan to get in touch with the MoFA. Nepal has also made public various phone numbers to for those in the war-torn country to get in touch with Nepali authorities.

In 2001, US-led coalition forces entered Afghanistan on the pretext of harboring al-Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden. A pro-Western government was formed after the then-ruling Taliban coalition was defeated by the army. Twenty years later, with the withdrawal of US troops, the Taliban have returned to power.

Even the Afghan public is skeptic of Taliban because of the policies they imposed during their rule in Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001. The international community has a not clarified their stance about the situation after August 15. Even China, Russia and Pakistan, which have presented relatively soft approach towards the Taliban, are cautious.

In such a situation, even Nepal is not in a position to present a concrete stance about the situation there. Nepal is the chair of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Afghanistan is a SAARC member state.

Experts in diplomatic affairs expect Nepal’s role in the current crisis as SAARC chair.

Chairman of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) Upendra Yadav, who is also a former foreign minister, stressed that Nepal should focus on the rescue of her citizens more than any other issue. “Afghanistan is a landlocked nation just like us,” he told KhabarHub. “Nepal needed to think carefully about the political crisis there. SAARC doesn’t seem to be able to do anything.”

Five Nepali diplomats, who have been ambassadors to various countries, issued a joint statement on Tuesday urging the Nepalese government to take initiatives at the SAARC level on the crisis in Afghanistan.

Former Ambassadors Hiranya Lal Shrestha, Deep Kumar Upadhyay, Durgesh Man Singh, Suresh Chalise and Mahesh Maskey urged the Government of Nepal to take initiative for dialogue with the countries concerned on the Afghan crisis.

Upadhyay, one of the five former ambassadors, told KhabarHub, “Rescue of our citizens in the Afghan crisis must be our first priority. It will be viewed as success if Nepal, in capacity of SAARC chair, is able to just hold discussions among the representatives of SAARC countries on this issue.”

However, according to former foreign minister and JSP Chairman Yadav, Nepal cannot take concrete steps just because it is the chair of SAARC.”