The turmoil and terrorism that has engulfed the entire crescent from Pakistan, though Iraq and Syria to Libya seems a world away from Nepal. But once more, the violence of that region has spilled over. It was brought home with the tragic deaths of 12 Nepali citizens in the bus bombing in Kabul on the morning of Monday, 20 June.
Once more, families in Nepal grieved for sons killed faraway. We were again reminded of the fragility of Nepalâs remittance-driven economy. More than half the four million Nepalis working abroad are located in the volatile Gulf region. The migrant economy now makes up nearly one-third of the countryâs GDP, and it is the blood, sweat and tears of our workers, the money that they send home, that sustains their families and keeps Nepalâs economy afloat.
It was only 12 years ago that 12 Nepali workers who had been taken hostage by the Ansa al-Sunnah group in Iraq were gunned down. When theÂ killings were broadcast live on international tv channels, riots broke out in Kathmandu. It was later revealed that Nepali Congress cadre used the tragedy to stage coordinated attacks on recruiting agencies and mosques to fan communal flames in an attempt to destabilise the royal regime.
At least a dozen Nepalis, most of them private security guards or soldiers with the British Army, have been killed in Afghanistan in the past decade. But this weekâs attack on Nepalis guarding the Canadian Embassy in Kabul was by far the most serious loss of life and underscores the fact that Nepalis are literally dying to make a living.
Such is the desperation for jobs and for a better life, that Nepalis are one of few nationalities willing to put themselves in harm’s way in dangerous jobs that no one else will do. Fatalities involving NATO troops in Afghanistan have fallen due to cutbacks, but also because Nepalis have taken up frontline sentry duties and convoy escorting.
Mondayâs killings were full of glaring coincidences and ironies. It happened even as there were events in Kathmandu to mark World Refugee Day. Nepali workers overseas may not be classified as refugees, but they are economic migrants forced to leave because of the lack of jobs and prospects at home.
A tweet on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation handle with breaking news of the attack said: âAll Canadian Embassy staff safe âŚâ, raising questions about what that mission had done to ensure the safety of its own security personnel. Who guards the guards? Who is responsible for the safety of foreign workers when security itself is subcontracted?
In a world numbed by violence and tragedy, we were once more reminded of the hierarchy of news. To trend, an event has to be sudden, there have to be dramatic visuals, the loss of life has to be above a certain threshold total, and even that depends on where the fatalities take place or where the victims are from. The death of a dozen Nepali security guards did not make the kind of headlines that a similar loss of life of NATO troops have commanded in the past.
But even in Nepal, there was a glaring discrepancy in coverage. A sudden terrorist attack with heavy loss of life got more prominence than coverage of the tragedy that unfolds more slowly â the deaths from ânaturalâ causes of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf and MalaysiaÂ . There arenât any banner headlines about the deaths of at least 1,000 Nepali migrant workers every year in Malaysia and the Gulf.
For example, 603 Nepalis died in one year (2014-15) just in Malaysia and Qatar. In the six years between 2008-14, 1,121 Nepali workers died in Malaysia, 880 in Saudi Arabia, 739 in Qatar and 264 in the UAE. But these deaths did not happen suddenly in one place, they were scattered across the region, the workers mostly died quietly in their sleep, and the only visuals were of coffins arriving at Kathmandu airport. So they never made it to the news.
The deaths of our soldiers fighting in foreign armies and security guards protecting embassies and airports in war zones around the world also opens up the vexing question of pride and sovereignty. We Nepalis are, on the one hand, proud never to have been colonised and being labelled the oldest nation state in South Asia. And yet, in this day and age we allow our citizens to fight and die for foreigners. Even more surprising is how much recruitment of Nepalis by the armed forces of India, Britain, Singapore, Oman or Brunei is accepted by the public here.
Nepali soldiers have beenÂ mixed up in a war between two neighbours with whom we have good relations (as happened in the India-China war of 1962), and Gurkhas fought each other in 1816, and on opposite sides during World War 2 in Imphal. We have accepted these profound contradictions, and taken them in our stride.
Recruitment of Nepali citizens in foreign armies is a historical incongruity that can only be set right by stabilising our politics and straightening out our economy. This involves politics, and once and for all getting our governance right. If we donât, we will continue to depend on overseas remittances to prop up our precarious economy, and tragedies like the one that befell our compatriots in Kabul this week will keep on repeating.