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Can Canadian embassy turn its back on its security guards?

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June 23, 2016

The circumstances that led to the killing of 12 Nepali security guards manning the Canadian embassy in Kabul on Monday have raised a number of questions.

Were they adequately protected, properly trained, well-paid or insured?

The men were guarding the Canadian embassy in one of the most dangerous warzones in the world.  So, was it not the responsibility of Canada to take proper measures for the guards’ security?

There are currently 148 Nepali security personnel guarding the powerful western embassy. The distance between the residence of the security guards and the embassy is four kilometers. The guards travelled on hired public vehicles and took the same sensitive route via Jalalabad following the same schedule every weekday making themselves vulnerable to attacks. A suicide bomber walked up to their vehicle on Monday and blew himself up, killing 14 and injuring 7.

These hard facts sufficiently point out that Kabul’s Canadian embassy and Sabre International, a British security contractor that provides security to the embassy, violated basic security rules. One doesn’t need to be a security expert to conclude this much.

Why this negligence?

“Obviously, Nepali lives don’t matter much in war-torn Afghanistan,” says  Nepali journalist Subel Bhandari  who spent five years in that country working for a wire news service, adding, “Taking extra security measures will increase security costs. Besides, there are bureaucratic and security hurdles to put such measures in place.”

And, as Bhandari says, the lives of third country nationals, called TCNs in Afghanistan, are usually regarded less valuable than the lives of westerners. The TCNs are treated differently, though they are also working on the same mission – restoration of peace in Afghanistan.

But can Canada really turn its back on its own security guards who were blown to smithereens in the course of duty? Perhaps Canada can pass the buck to Sabre International legally, but it cannot shirk moral responsibility.

How can the western countries that reject Nepali carpets on grounds of child labor turn a blind eye to the plight of their guards and those left bereaved in the course of providing security to their diplomats?

The guards weren’t killed because they were Nepali, but because they were providing security to Canadian officials.

Nepal government has brought the dead bodies home, and has sought the help of the Afghan government for the treatment of the injured. But neither Canada nor Sabre International is seen anywhere on the scene.

Hours after the tragic incident, Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau posted this tweet, which was deafeningly silent on who the victims were: “Today’s attack on security workers in Kabul is appalling & cowardly. Our thoughts are with the victims as we stand with the Afghan people.”

Secondly, are Nepali guards are properly trained? From what people on the ground say, there appears to be a serious mismatch between training of personnel guarding foreign missions in Afghanistan and the menace they are required to tackle.

Nepali workers in Afghanistan say they are not properly trained for the level of security threat in Afghanistan.

Milan KC, a security guard working at the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan, told this scribe: “Yes, many of us are ex-army or police personnel. But not all. We give a few weeks of training to new recruits from non-military background on how to handle firearms and they learn the combat skills slowly. Those who are better skilled take care of those who are not from military background.”

The embassies in Afghanistan are employing untrained or poorly trained people for the first or second line of defense. Afghan and Nepali guards form the first and second security chains and are likely to become the first victims of any terrorist attack.

Nepali guards provide security to all major missions and embassies including those of the US, the UK and the World Bank in Afghanistan.

According to Nepalis working in Afghanistan, there are 500-700 Nepalis at the US embassy and around 600 at the British embassy. The majority of security guards at United Nations offices are also Nepalis.

But are they secure?

“The situation at the UN is different. They work and live inside secured compound. But the situation at embassies is not so safe. The guards commute on microbuses,” says security guard Milan KC.

According to him, the distance between the residence of the US embassy security guards and the embassy building is very close, and is not regarded very unsafe. But the way other embassies provide security to their guards violates the basic security rules.

Despite such negligence that exposed the deceased to high levels of threat that eventually proved fatal, it’s unbelievable that the Canadian embassy and Sabre International have not stated anything about compensation.

The guards were working for USD 800 to 1500 a month, but many of them don’t know anything about compensation.

Even officials here are clueless on the matter.

Satrudhan Pudasaini at the Department of Foreign Employment said, “We don’t know anything about compensation. There must be an agreement between the security contractor and the security guards. But we don’t know.”

The Nepal government should take steps for compensation. The Canadian government, or any western government for that matter, cannot turn its back on the plight of the guards manning their embassies in Kabul or any conflict-ridden country. Western governments must ensure that the guards are fairly treated, properly trained and ensured.

The western countries involved in regime change in the third world countries under the pretext of promoting democracy cannot and should not subscribe to double standards – one for westerners, and another for non-westerners.

 

By Post Bahadur Basnet