Indians working in war-ravaged Afghanistan return

Around 5,000 of them were employed by private firms providing logistical support to the U.S military

With the United States Armed Forces largely departing from Afghanistan, hundreds of Indian expatriate workers, many of them Keralites, have started returning home from the war-ravaged country.

Sources said that the process of repatriation had commenced last year itself after a majority of them had been laid off or forced to resign from companies when the U.S. began closing military bases as part of the Taliban peace deal in March last.

Then, many had hoped that the U.S.- Taliban deal initiated under former President Donald Trump would be reversed after Joe Biden assumed office in January. Though Mr. Trump had ordered a complete drawdown in November 2020, Mr. Biden, who had initially said that the U.S. administration would review the peace deal, later announced that that the United States would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, to be completed by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

An estimated 5,000 Indians were employed in several U.S. and European companies that provided multifunctional support and logistics work for U.S. military troops in Afghanistan. Now, they are back home after working at the bases at Bagram, Shindand, Kandahar, Helmand Province, and Hemland River Valley.

“It was a real lifetime and threatening experience in a conflict zone. But now I am happy to return home and permanently be with my family after a nine year stint in Afghanistan,” said Sunny (name changed), who returned a week ago.

For many, Afghanistan, even though battle-scarred, has been another key emigrant region after the six-decade-old Gulf dream faded.

“The companies offered attractive salary depending on expertise and qualification on jobs ranging from HR, IT technicians, laundry service and food services support. The payment in U.S. dollars is made weekly or fortnightly. Food and accommodation were free. Some companies provided danger money up to 35% of the salary,” Jijo, another returnee, said.

Currently, a few U.S. companies have started deploying manpower and resources in other bases in the Middle-East including battle-damaged Iraq. But not all are lucky to be hired. Nevertheless, other companies have also set up units in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“We thought the key workforce would be relocated to the Gulf region to support the services of remaining American and NATO troops. Now the mission has been called off after the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller relinquished his post on Monday. That means, we will be flying out shortly, ” a source said.

Until 2014-15, the Indian Embassy did not have comprehensive data about Indians expatriates in Afghanistan as manpower recruiters via sub contractors signed up candidates and flew them out of bases in the Gulf sector.

Afterwards all of them had to acquire an Afghan work visa. “Previously the salary offered was also higher. Ex-servicemen and those employed with the police force and prison department in India, who took extended leave even up to 5-10 years, sought for positions in Afghanistan, ” a source said.

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