This is a testing time for the government, and it has the onus to help our citizens when they are dire situation

As the Taliban closes in on Afghanistan's capital Kabul, governments across the world are concerned about the safety of their citizens staying there, and are frantically trying to get them out as early as possible. With Afghan President Ashraf Ghani having fled the country on Sunday, it is only a matter of days before Kabul falls to Taliban forces, much earlier than anticipated by the U.S. government. With uncertainty shrouding the immediate future of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the Nepal government has formed a task force to rescue Nepalis who are working there. On Sunday, the International Relations Committee under the House of Representatives had instructed the government to use all diplomatic means for the immediate rescue of all Nepalis in Afghanistan.

It is not known how many Nepalis are there in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) estimates there are about 1,500 Nepalis in Afghanistan with labour permits. But the actual number of Nepalis in Afghanistan is said to be many times more as thousands of skilled and qualified Nepali citizens, especially ex-servicemen, were working in foreign-aided projects.

Media reports have been circulating that there could be as many as 12,000 Nepalis in the war-torn country, which the government has refuted as pure rumour. But it is a fact that tens of thousands of Nepalis reach different work destinations around the world through informal channels without taking labour permits. Regardless of how the Nepalis have landed in Afghanistan, it is the duty of the government to relocate them to safer places until they can be brought home safely. Those in need of help must now come into contact on the hotline created by the government at the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi, India. Or they could contact the Department of Consular services on Viber or MOFA on WhatsApp on the mobile numbers provided by the government.

This is not the first time that Nepal will be evacuating its citizens from danger zones. During the Gulf war in 1991, the Nepal government had sent Royal Nepal Airlines planes to rescue its citizens. The security of our fellow citizens should be the concern of the government and everyone at this moment. We know the perils of working in a war zone, and it is at times like this that the beheading of 12 innocent Nepalis in Iraq in August 2004 comes to haunt us.

Whichever channel Nepalis go abroad for work, they remit home billions of dollars annually that help to sustain the country's economy. This is a testing time for the government, and it has the onus to help them when they need it the most. They cannot be left to fend for themselves or the responsibility of evacuating them shifted to a friendly country or agency. It would be easy for the government to plan the rescue operation if it knew the exact number of Nepalis stranded in Afghanistan. Thus, the manpower companies that have sent Nepalis to Afghanistan must provide reliable information and statistics about them. The rescue operation comes at a time when the coronavirus is seeing a surge in Nepal. Therefore, the government must make all arrangements to keep the rescued Nepalis in isolation or in quarantine as Afghanistan has been a hotbed of the disease.

Impractical decision

Citing increasing number of COVID cases in Kavre, the District Administration Office (DAO) and District Land Revenue Office (DLRO) have decided to open their offices only on specific days at the local levels. According to a notice published on Sunday, the offices will remain open only on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday for Dhulikhel, Panchkhal and Panuati municipalities and Banepa, Mandandeupur and Namobuddha municipalities will open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However, all other rural municipalities will provide their services six days a week.

Although this decision may be justified from the administration point of view, the number of service seekers will not come down on the days when these offices are open on alternate days. More service seekers will gather on the alternate days, and it will create an unnecessary burden to the service providers. They are the busiest agencies, which provide most essential services for citizenship papers, passports and land transactions. It would be better if the concerned offices provided the services to the people with only half of their staffers on regular office days. Officials may be relieved of their workload, but this measure will cause more inconvenience to the service seekers.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 17 2021, of The Himalayan Times.