POSTSCRIPT / August 15, 2021 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Can OFWs escape wrath of Talibans?

OVERSEAS Filipino Workers trapped in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan being encircled by Taliban insurgents, will be flown out to safety before the end of this month, the Philippine embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, assured the OFWs this week.

News of the approval of the evacuation plan by the Department of Foreign Affairs was relayed to the OFWs by the embassy in Islamabad through Glenn Gumpal, the president of the Samahang Pilipino ng Afghanistan (SPA).

Members of the SPA are employees of some two dozen foreign entities and contractors ministering to the wartime needs of the Afghan government. From a high of 500, the number of SPA members has dwindled to the present 175.

Many of them are professionals working as hotel managers, professors, accountants, company managers, and engineers with salaries ranging from $2,300 to $5,000. They reside inside the Green Zone highly fortified area in Kabul.

Around 30 Filipinos work with the US embassy, which has its own contingency plans, including possible evacuation. Eight others work with HART, a British security firm, in Herat province that the Taliban claimed to have overrun the other day.

Other Filipinos who left Afghanistan about a month ago and stopped over in Dubai (where they got stuck) were recruits of Fluor, an engineering and construction company. Those working on US and NATO bases are not counted as SPA members.

The workers’ plight was brought to our attention by OFW advocate Manny S. Geslani, who discussed with us some of the workers’ problems, including possible dislocation after a hurried evacuation.

Geslani said one problem is time. Their evacuation has been tentatively set within the next two weeks. The Taliban, however, has been overrunning city after city as its fighters race toward Kabul where most of the workers have gathered for better security.

Another risk he mentioned was the landing and takeoff of aircraft in Kabul. This could become difficult with the Talibans shelling the area and lobbing bombs, as if in preparation for their attempting an assault to capture the seat of government.

With the US and its allies bringing back more troops – the US as many as 3,000! – as reinforcement for an evacuation, heavy fighting can be expected. In a punitive war, even in the name of evacuation, a regiment can inflict crippling damage on the enemy.

A list is being rushed, meanwhile, of those who would board the plane to Manila. Geslani said some workers were still undecided about taking the flight, apparently weighing between the government plane and that of their company. They better decide fast!

We got the impression that many OFWs want to stick it out with their employer to boost their chances of getting a good job again when the situation simmers down. It seems some of them prefer staying with their employer rather than betting their life on the government.

The tentative plan calls for the government plane to take off from Kabul with a stopover in Istanbul, which was chosen because Dubai, the logical stop, remains closed to travelers from Afghanistan, among other countries hit by pandemic surges.

 Biden defends Afghanistan pullout

THE BODY language of such allies as the US, the United Kingdom and Canada indicates that they assume the possibility of Kabul falling to the Taliban. They have ordered reinforcements to help evacuate their nationals and loyalists trapped in the capital.

The US in particular apparently does not want a repeat of the embarrassing spectacle of Americans and their friends jostling for the limited space on the last planes out of Saigon as it was about to fall to the North Vietnamese regulars and the ragtag Viet Cong in April 1975.

President Biden is hard-pressed to explain his decision for a US pullout. His line goes: We have spent more than a trillion dollars in 20 years and lost thousands of American troops. The US and its allies have trained and equipped more than 300,000 Afghan forces who should now fight for their own nation.

 This isn’t ‘Afghanistanism’

THERE was once the pejorative pressroom term “Afghanistanism”. It was used mostly by US newspapermen calling out their fellows who preferred to discuss problems of faraway places instead of more relevant local concerns.

Indeed, why must the press report on Afghanistan or some distant land and possibly even have to draw a map to show where the place is, and explain how an event there could impact on the lives of local readers?

The term Afghanistanism is quite dated, if not dead. Note that in referring to it we said “press” instead of the contemporary multi-platform “media”, and used the simple term “newspapermen” instead of the pretentious “journalists” or a vague “mediamen”.

Afghanistan heaved into closer view after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 that killed some 3,000, while bringing down the World Trade Center in New York, one of several symbolic targets, and showing how soft and vulnerable America had become.

American avengers flew to Afghanistan to hunt down the conspirators, including Osama bin Laden the mastermind who had reportedly moved there. On May 2, 2011, he was cornered and shot dead by US Navy SEALs in a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

It’s a long story from the 10-year hunt for Bin Laden to the rampage of Taliban insurgents who were reported yesterday to be close to knocking at the gates of Kabul.

Afghanistan is no longer a distant place but is right here and now, its war-weary face staring at us from the TV/computer screen. We watch videos of Taliban fighters pushing, capturing city after city on their way to surrounding the fortified capital. And we worry for our OFWs.

Kabul looms in our Filipino mind as vividly as Marawi City did before the 2017 Siege. Discussing the deteriorating situation in that mountainous landlocked country far, far away is no longer Afghanistanism.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 15, 2021)

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