Unable to leave for now last Bhutanese in Kabul says he will work to help Afghans

The last Bhutanese in Kabul, Gurung (name changed) working in the UN compound said that initially he wanted to leave as he was due for his annual leave and rotation and he was also unsure as to what would happen once the Americans pull out.

However, now he said that even after the US troops pulled out the situation is still calm at least inside the UN compound and so he plans to work for some more time to help local Afghans who he said are in absolute dire need.

“Somebody has to stay otherwise who will deliver the services,” said Gurung.

He also said that currently after the last US military flight left there are no international commercial flights as the Qatari and Turkish technicians are working to fix the technical aspects of the Kabul airport like the Air Traffic Control Tower and plus the Taliban do not have any people trained to man the airport.

Gurung said he also does not want to risk his life by going to the airport at this point as it is not safe there.

He said one option for the UN staff which is being explored is to take a helicopter ride from Kabul into Pakistan and then a flight from there, but the Taliban are currently not allowing helicopters as they fear that the ISIS-K could bring down a UN helicopter and once this happens then all UN staff would have to leave.

This is the last thing that the Taliban wants, given the important role that the UN has to play.

He pointed out that in 2011 a US Chinook helicopter had been shot down killing all 32 on board.

Gurung said the Taliban is still worried about the ISIS-K’s ability to attack aerial targets.

The biggest worry for the Taliban at the airport is that ironically with the US withdrawal they have taken away the C-RAM or Counter- Rocket Artillery Mortar which is a system that can, as the name suggests, bring down incoming rockets and mortar.

Gurung said that the ISIS-K had fired 6 rockets into the Kabul airport but the US C-RAM system had detected and brought them down before real damage could be done.

Gurung said that the airport may be up and running in another 10 days to two week’s time and it is only then he can think of leaving. The Emirates airlines where he has his tickets have said that they will keep his ticket open.

He said the Taliban had announced the operation of domestic flights within Afghanistan with a flight from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif but it could not happen as the flight was held up due to technical issues. 

He said a technical and humanitarian flight had come in from Qatar. Domestic flights started around two days ago.

Gurung said the airport is very silent for now and all the larger crowds gathered outside the airport have disbursed and there is Taliban security at the airport.

One major issue in Kabul right now is an economic crisis and Gurung said that people are only allowed to withdraw USD 200 per week which is now around 20,000 Afghani, the Taliban is asking Afghan civil servants and police to come back to work but there is no money to pay their wages and the Taliban have no plans on how to revive the economy.

Gurung said that there is a big shortage of food and shortages of also fuel.

“Winter is approaching which starts here from October and November and people depend mostly on Kerosene for heating,” said Gurung.

He said that Afghanistan will be facing a food, security, fuel and economic crisis in the days to come which will keep getting worse.

Gurung said another issue is that the Taliban are not one group but consist of several factions and tribes like Yusufzai, Noorzai, Eshaqzai, Alizai and others.

“These different Tribal leaders have their own tribal armies of 500 to 1,000 each and they all joined the Taliban to get lucrative government profiles and if the Taliban cannot keep everybody happy then they could start fighting against the Taliban or even defect to other groups like the ISIS-K,” said Gurung.

“Previously the Taliban were just fighting but now they have run a government with no money and no experience in governance. They will have to lead on foreign policy front, education, trade and industry and innovation and all of it will be a big challenge. The situation is only going to get worse as we move ahead,” said Gurung.

He said that a humanitarian crisis is developing in Afghanistan.

“From our side we are providing humanitarian assistance like food, shelter etc for the internally displaced people and with so much of them we have to establish camps for them with proper sanitation and hygiene,” said Gurung.

He said that one major visible change is that the UN compound had around 200 to 300 Afghan women working of which around 100 were cleaners and cooks and the rest were officers and other staff but he said after 15th August the women have all stopped coming.

He said the UN has been flexible and is allowing them to work from home but the same cannot apply to the manual cleaners though they will still be paid.

Gurung said that women mainly stay indoors and come out only if absolutely necessary as they do not want to be harassed by the Taliban.

The change has not only been for the women but also the men as they have given up their earlier suits and western clothes and now mainly wear the traditional local Afghan dress with a pant that has to be six inches above the heel.

There are currently around 115 staff working in the UN compound in Kabul of different nationalities.

Gurung said that anywhere around 100 to 200 US citizens are still in Afghanistan.

Another change that Gurung has noted is in the media as he said the media coverage has become much more limited.

He said that while the USA has evacuated around 130,000 people there are still many Special Immigration Visa or SIV cases left behind in Afghanistan. SIVs are people who have worked with western countries or agencies. He said that two of his assistants are SIVs but they got left behind as their case is not approved yet though they are in the final stages.

While alcohol was officially always banned in Afghanistan as an Islamic country he said that he observed local Afghans drinking at the UN parties or those of embassies but with the Taliban even that unofficial drinking has stopped. Men also have stopped shaving and are trying to grow beards.

Gurung said his wife in New York and his two sons one of whom is a doctor in the USA and another is working in Montreal Canada are all worried about him and they want him to come back as soon as possible.

Gurung said the Foreign Ministry in Thimphu and the two Embassies of Bhutan in New York and Delhi have been in constant touch with him.

He said he plans to first go to New York to his family and come back to Bhutan next year and start his construction on a plot of land he owns in Changbandhu.

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