KATHMANDU, August 19: Thousands of Nepalis working in Afghanistan as security guards will have to leave the war-ravaged country by the end of this year under a decree issued by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday.
Though there is no exact official figure on the number of Nepalis to be affected by the decree, estimates put it at between 15,000 to 20,000.
The presidential decree requires private security companies to disband within four months, according to the Associated Press, the US-based new agency. It further says that security contractors will have to either join the Afghan police force or cease operations by mid-December. The Afghan president wants to replace foreign security guards with Afghan security forces.
“Our embassy has taken up the issue and contacted the Afghan embassy here [Islamabad],” said Durga Bhandari, deputy chief at the Nepali embassy in Pakistan.
Nepal does not have a mission in Afghanistan and the Nepali embassy in Pakistan looks after diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.
NATO and the US military rely on security firms to protect their convoys and bases. These firms employ Nepalis, including ex-British Gurkhas and retired personnel of Nepali security forces, who risk their lives because of the attractive salaries.
“The Afghan immigration office has stopped renewing visas for foreign security guards, including those for Nepalis,” said a Nepali working for a US firm in Hemland province, Afghanistan, on condition of anonymity. “Some of our colleagues here have been overstaying.”
He also said that the Afghan president, during the presidential election in 2009, committed himself to voters to create employment opportunities for unemployed Afghans by making foreign workers leave the country.
Bhandari said he has been told by the Afghan embassy in Islamabad that the Afghan foreign ministry has already stopped issuing visas for travel to Afghanistan for employment.
Data at the Department of Foreign Employment says there are only 441 Nepalis working in Afghanistan. But the Nepali embassy in Pakistan estimates the figure at 15,000-20,000, based on information provided by individuals working in Afghanistan and the Afghan mission in Islamabad.
Such large numbers, government officials believe, reached Afghanistan illegally through manpower agents. The Nepali who spoke to Republica over the phone from Hemland said that the salaries they get range from US $ 500 to 3,500 per month.
According to AP, the presidential decree is expected to meet resistance from NATO officials, who rely heavily on private security companies to guard convoys and installations across Afghanistan. Officials in Washington have also questioned whether a four-month deadline is realistic.
The decree is not clear whether it will affect Nepalis working as helpers, cooks and loaders for foreign troops in Afghanistan.