19-25 February 2016 #796

Fighting for foreigners

Earlier this month India and Brunei signed a defense pact during a visit by Indian Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari to the Southeast Asian state. During the meeting, India reportedly offered the services of its Gorkha soldiers to Brunei.

Ansari’s proposal goes against the spirit of the 1947 tripartite treaty between Nepal, India and the UK concerning the deployment of Gurkha soldiers which allows the soliders from Nepal to be integrated into the Indian and British armies, but not to be treated as mercenaries. Doing so without Nepal’s consent is condemnable.

Even so, the UK has been using Gurkha soldiers as mercenaries for decades. The Sultan of Brunei has deployed soldiers of the British Royal Gurkha Rifles as palace guards since the 1960s. The UK also sends Gurkha soldiers to serve in the Singapore Police Force. The British government thus acts as a middle man, reaping most of the fees. Now, India is trying to emulate that.

Irrespective of which countries they are serving, Gurkha soldiers are Nepalis first and the Nepali state should be responsible for their welfare. It would be against our national interest to remain silent about this breach of the treaty.

The failure to raise a voice against the use of Gurkha soldiers as mercenaries could also jeopardise Nepal’s diplomatic ties with friendly countries. For example future tension between Brunei and China in the South China Sea could drag Nepali soldiers into the territorial dispute. If that happens, it could strain Nepal’s relations with its northern neighbour. Prime Minister KP Oli should raise this issue with his Indian counterpart during his visit to New Delhi this week.

India’s proposal has once again highlighted the need to review the 1947 treaty, which was signed by Rana rulers. Nepali soldiers have also been recruited by other countries including the US and France, but neither have a formal agreement with Nepal. There are also an increasing number of young Nepalis being recruited by private security companies to serve in war-torn Gulf states.

While the state earns remittances from its soldiers in foreign armies, it should take note of the harm this will have on Nepal’s long-term strategic interest.