Many argue that as Afghanistan is not even South Asia proper the recent spate of events there are unlikely to have any direct impact on Nepal, a fellow SAARC member state. Of course there is the question of the fate of around 10,000 Nepalis who are believed to be working in Afghanistan, both legally and illegally. Thankfully, their repatriation is in full swing. Other than that, there will be limited direct impact. But that does not mean events there will have no bearing on Nepal whatsoever.
“You must factor in the Nepal-India open border when we talk about recent events in Afghanistan,” says Pramod Jaiswal, Research Director at Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE). “Afghan refugees have various ways of reaching India, including on tourist visas. They could then easily come to Nepal. India won’t look kindly on such movements,” he argues. This is because India expects a spike in Taliban activities not only in India but in the whole of South Asia in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
Indra Adhikari, another foreign policy analyst, points at a related risk. “Even in Nepal, we have had plenty of problems with extremist forces,” she says. “At least for some of them, the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a huge morale booster.”
Both Jaiswal and Adhikari offer cautionary advice to Nepal. Afghanistan is an old victim of great power rivalry, and if Nepal does not play its cards well, it too could be a victim of the growing geopolitical competition between the US, India and China in South Asia. Nepal is a stronger state than Afghanistan, which is riven by multiple geographical and sectarian divisions. Yet that should be no cause for complacency.
“Another important lesson from Afghanistan is that overreliance on outside forces inevitably backfires,” adds Adhikari. The previous Afghan government propped up by the Americans seemed divorced from the concerns of ordinary Afghans. Corruption rocketed. “Just look at how swiftly the inefficient and corrupt Afghan military collapsed to the Taliban attack.”
If the Nepali state wants to learn from Afghanistan, there is much to internalize. If it doesn’t, the country will eventually suffer.