Taliban Takeover and Implications for Nepal
Dr Rishi Gupta
Nepalese in Afghanistan

Amidst Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the leading global powers continue to repatriate their citizens from Afghanistan. At the same time, geographically smaller countries are looking for international cooperation in repatriating their citizens. In South Asia, Nepal is one such country, trying to repatriate its 1500 citizens from Afghanistan. On August 15, the Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand1 convened an “inter-ministerial meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary of the Government of Nepal under the chairmanship of the Heads of Central Asia, West Asia and Africa divisions of the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal Police, and COVID-19 Crisis Management Center and Department of Consular Services”2, to chalk out an action plan to bring repatriate Nepalese citizens.

The Government of Nepal (GoN) has created an online portal, WhatsApp group, and emergency hotlines for its citizens to register their repatriation requests. Since Nepal does not have a diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, Nepal Embassy in New Delhi is assigned with the Afghan desk. In this process, GoN has also sent formal requests to “United Nations, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the European Union, Japan and the United Nations to immediately rescue and repatriate Nepalis working in Kabul.”3

Notably, more than 100 Nepalese nationals were working at the United States embassy in Kabul4, and 200 more with the Canadian and German Embassies in Kabul.5 They were repatriated with the help of the United States Air Force on August 17, and other diplomatic missions are assisting their Nepalese workers in exiting Afghanistan. As of August 23, a total of “654 Nepalese citizens have been rescued and reached Kathmandu.”6 India is also helping Nepalese workers to board its repatriation flights from Kabul. Meanwhile, the exact number of Nepalese stuck in Nepal is estimated to be between 15,000 to 20,000.7 However, only 1500 are put on record because many Nepalese are engaged in informal sector jobs and not documentated with the GoN.8 The 2020 Nepal Migration Report estimates that the most significant number of labour migrants from Nepal to Afghanistan were deployed in security services.9 The GoN had approved 1070 work permits to Afghanistan in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-202110 compared to 924 in FY 2019-20 and 1420 in FY 2015-16.11

Amidst these challenging circumstances, Nepal falls poor on its diplomatic outreach and capabilities in safeguarding the lives of its people in Afghanistan and other conflict-ridden countries, including Israel. For instance, as soon the countries began to close down their borders due to Covid-19 in 2019, there was a surge of requests from migrant labourers, students, and others stuck on foreign soils to the GoN for repatriation. During the 2015 earthquake, Nepalese migrant workers had pleaded to the GoN to arrange their repatriation after they could not return from Gulf countries due to confiscation of passports by their employers. 12 On all these emergency occasions, Nepal had/has made humanitarian pleas to the international community, including India, in repatriating them.13 Responsibility to protect its citizens by the GoN has often been passed on to others, and it has become a norm. The government of Nepal’s inability to repatriate and the availability of data on exact numbers of Nepalese migrant workers shows the lack of efforts on the part of the Nepal Government.

Remittances and Governmental Response

In the last two decades, Nepal has become one of the largest exporters of human labour worldwide, with the majority working in India, Malaysia, Gulf countries, and the United States. The outbreak of the Maoist insurgency in 1996 prompted labour migration from Nepal, and the Labour Department had approved 3259 permits that year. In 2001, approvals reached 10,4736. The numbers have doubled in the last ten years,with 23,6208 permits approved in FY 2018-19.14 Nepal’s economy has seen drastic changes due to increasing contributions made by the remittances to the GDP. In 2019-20 alone, Nepal received a record 961.05 billion Nepali Rupee (NR) as remittances, accounting for “22.5 percent of Nepal’s current gross domestic product of Rs 4.26 trillion evaluated at current market prices.”15

While agriculture continues to be the primary contributor, there is a downward turn. Annual Economic Survey 2020 reports that the “contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP is decreasing whereas non-agriculture sector is increasing.”16 For FY 2019/20, agriculture contributed 27.6 per cent to GDP, whereas the rest of the contributors belonged to non-agricultural sectors, including remittances and tourism. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic causing return migration in the last one and a half years, a ten per cent rise in remittances during 2019-20 alone shows an increasing demand for foreign labour.17

With such vibrant economic statics and an increasing reliance on remittances, GoN’s response towards its citizens outlines its limited capacity overseas. In the last two decades, labour and passport departments have increased their capacities in issuing permits and passports. However, repatriation, capable aviation, coordination with the host countries and missing legal and strategic understanding acutely risks the lives of millions of migrants. In the last 11 years, 7,467 Nepalese workers have died in host countries, and in many cases, families of the deceased have failed to afford a coffin or bear transportation costs.18 Between 2008-2019, an estimated 21 migrants have died in Afghanistan due to terrorist attacks and other unknown reasons.19There were 13 Nepalese killed in the terrorist attack on Canadian Embassy in Kabul in 2016.20

The earthquake of 2015, Covid-19, Israel-Palestine Conflict, and presently Afghanistan are such reminders demanding improved capabilities and emergency response from the GoN.21 Understandably, Nepal does not have a dedicated Air Force but a small Nepalese Army Air Service with limited capacities and training to carry out rescue and repatriation missions. Still, Nepal Airlines owns a number of aircraft that can be put to use for rescue missions. Nepal can improve its defence infrastructure by inducting newer aircraft with better capacity to be deployed on emergency missions. Above all, it is the diplomatic capability that should define Nepal’s modern-day outlook in global affairs. Since the advent of globalisation, Nepal has time and again asserted its position in world politics, especially on international forays, but such weaknesses work against its aspirations.

Security Challenges

Besides rescuing Nepalese citizens, Nepal stands on the cusp of severe security challenges amidst Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. For decades, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been found using Nepal as a safe haven to carry out terror attacks, run espionage operations, and pump fake currency into India. It is reflected from the fact that Pakistan has meagre trade relations with Nepal since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1960.22 Yet, the Pakistan Embassy is housed in a large complex in the heart of Kathmandu city, which is often seen as the epicentre of covert operations at the behest of ISI.23 While the nexus between ISI and Afghan Taliban in the context of Nepal goes back to the hijacking of Airlines IC 184 by the ISI backed terror group in 1999 from Kathmandu Airport, Nepal has hardly paid attention to such concerns. The United States, in all its annual Global Terror reports, has cautioned against the potential use of Nepalese territories against India by the terror groups.

In its 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism, the United States reported that “due to the open border with India and insufficient security protocols at the country’s sole international airport in Kathmandu, Nepal could be used as a transit or staging point for international terrorists.”24 In its 2018 report, too, the US had categorically mentioned Indian Mujahedeen operating from Nepal.25 On the other hand, Nepal has a poor counterinsurgency infrastructure, and in case of a significant terror scenario, it will be insufficient. There are loopholes at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)regarding the availability of the latest detection technology. It was only recently that a section of the TIA was upgraded to welcome tourists in 2019.

In 2019, a Pakistani national was caught with a load of Indian currency worth 76.80 million.26 In 2013, Indian Mujahidin founder Yasin Bhatkal was arrested by the Indian security forces from the Nepal-India border region.27 There are several other such incidents reported by India’s Security Forces where Pakistani terrorists have tried to enter India through Nepal, attempted to smuggle narcotics and fake currency, and explosives. With less than 150 personnel assigned to the counter-terrorism desk of Nepal Army’s Special Force, the training of the personnel in collecting intelligence and on-ground operations remains to be tested.28

On the policy level, Nepal has come up with a National Security Policy in 2016 which mentions terrorism in line with extremism and aims to counter it. However, it does not provide any working strategy in this regard, precisely because Nepal has so far not witnessed any terror attacks on its soil, barring its homegrown Maoists in 1996. In terms of preparedness, Nepal Army participates in joint-military exercise- Surya Kiran with India,where its personnel train along with the Indian Army on counter-terrorism tactics. In 2017 and 2018, Nepal Army had participated in the first and second Sagarmatha Exercise with China aimed at countering terrorism. However, China has a different motto towards Sagarmatha joint exercise altogether. China tackles Free Tibet voices militarily, and since Nepal is home to more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees, it aims to do the same with the help of the Nepal Army.


Nepal’s constant reliance on the International Community for rescue, repatriation, and emergency responses exhibits the lack of political will in developing its own capabilities. The rising export of human resources overseas requires a systematic post-departure response and emergency assistance. Political appointments on foreign missions have become a trend in Nepal that creates a vacuum and weakens diplomatic capabilities due to a lack of dedicated training in the field.29 Therefore, Nepal needs to develop an Emergency Response Team trained explicitly for such emergency missions involving army personnel, diplomats, and government officials.

Secondly, the rise of the Taliban as a legitimate actor in Afghanistan may allow Pakistan-based terror groups to increase their presence in Nepal. Nepal may be used as a gateway for illegal asylum seekers from Afghanistan to enter India using an open border. Pakistan can exploit this opportunity into a network of illicit activities through Nepal and recruit vulnerable Afghans on the pretext of asylum in India. Similarly, the nexus between ISI and Taliban may play out for Pakistan backed terror groups to use Hamid Karzai International Airport for smuggling purposes, where Nepal may well fit as a launching pad. Therefore, the GoN should work against time to advance its emergency and defence capabilities in this context. On the other hand, India needs to tighten security arrangements at the Nepal-India border.

  1. “Rescue Nepalis from Afghanistan: Khand” The Himalayan Times, August 17, 2021, https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/rescue-nepalis-from-afghanistan-khand.
  2. “Press Release on Rescue Operation in Afghanistan” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal, August 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/3B5OB7N.
  3. “Nepal seeks international help to evacuate its nationals from Afghanistan” ANI, August 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3B88IlW.
  4. “9 Indian nationals, 118 Nepalese evacuees working is US embassy in Kabul arrive in Kathmandu”, The Outlook, August 17, 2021, https://bit.ly/3B6Jx2T.
  5. “Nepali nationals in Afghanistan plead for their immediate rescue after Taliban insurgents storm Kabul”, The Republica, August 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3D9Vxma.
  6. “Press Release on Rescue Operation in Afghanistan” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal, August 22, 2021, https://mofa.gov.np/press-release-afghan/.
  7. “Who will rescue Nepalis from Afghanistan?” Nepali Times, August 15, 2021, https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/who-will-rescue-nepalis-from-afghanistan/.
  8. “Afghan lessons for Nepal”, The Annapurna Post, August 20, 2021, https://theannapurnaexpress.com/news/afghan-lessons-for-nepal-3513.
  9. “Nepal Labour Migration Report 2020”, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, Government of Nepal, https://moless.gov.np/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Migration-Report-2020-English.pdf.
  10. “Annual Report 2020”, Department of Foreign Employment, Government of Nepal, https://dofe.gov.np/uploads/document/Document_2021072709540.pdf.
  11. “Annual Report 2019”, Department of Foreign Employment, Government of Nepal, https://dofe.gov.np/uploads/document/Document_2020071707570.pdf
  12. “Nepalese migrants return home to face earthquake devastation “, The Guardian, May 04, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/04/nepalese-migrants-return-home-earthquake.
  13. “Nepal seeks international aid to rescue its nationals as Taliban take over Afghanistan “, Zee News, August 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/3jclWb7.
  14. “Nepal Labour Migration Report 2020”, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, Government of Nepal, https://moless.gov.np/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Migration-Report-2020-English.pdf.
  15. “Remittance hits Rs961 billion, an all-time high in the time of Covid-19”, Kathmandu Post, August 24, 2021, https://tkpo.st/3y6VLH1.
  16. “Economic Survey 2019/20”, Ministry of Finance, Government of Nepal, May 2020, https://mof.gov.np/uploads/document/file/Economic%20Survey%202019_20201125024153.pdf, page 5.
  17. “Remittance hits Rs961 billion, an all-time high in the time of Covid-19”, Kathmandu Post, August 24, 2021, https://tkpo.st/3y6VLH1.
  18. “Hundreds of young, healthy Nepalis die sudden deaths in foreign lands. No one knows what’s killing them”, Kathmandu Post, February 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/3sGs9Pw.
  19. Ibid.
  20. “Kabul attack condemned”, Nepali Times, June 20, 2016, http://archive.nepalitimes.com/blogs/thebrief/2016/06/20/kabul-attack-condemned/.
  21. “Who will rescue Nepalis from Afghanistan?” Nepali Times, August 15, 2021, https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/who-will-rescue-nepalis-from-afghanistan/.
  22. “Nepal-Pakistan Relations”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GoN, https://mofa.gov.np/nepal-pakistan-relations/, accessed on August 24, 2021.
  23. “Misuse of Nepal’s territory by Pakistan’s Intelligence Agencies to foment Terrorism”, European Foundation for South Asian Studies, July 2018, https://www.efsas.org/publications/study-papers/misuse-of-nepal%E2%80%99s-territory-by-pakistan%E2%80%99s-intelligence-agencies-to-foment-terrorism/
  24. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2019: Nepal”, US State Department, 2019, https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2019/nepal/.
  25. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2018: Nepal”, US State Department, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2018/#Nepal.
  26. “Nepal police arrest three Pakistani nationals with fake Indian currency worth Rs 76.80 million”, Indian Express, May 27, 2019, https://bit.ly/3B8mgOa.
  27. “Yasin Bhatkal: India Mujahideen 'top militant' arrested”, BBC, August 29, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-23876045.
  28. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2018: Nepal”, US State Department, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2018/#Nepal.
  29. “Change in criteria to appoint ambassadors meets with widespread criticism” Kathmandu Post, June 06, 2021, https://tkpo.st/2RtCmRm; “Nepal is in disarray. Its foreign policy doesn’t need to be”, Kathmandu Post, June 30, 2021, https://tkpo.st/3vQ3s31; “Cabinet recommends 11 envoys for various countries”, Kathmandu Post, May 15, 2021, https://tkpo.st/3fhNSXX; “Cabinet cancels appointments of 11 ambassadors made by Oli government” July 18, 2021, https://tkpo.st/2UP5u6S.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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