Nepali Times
'Bring Maoists to the mainstream...’

British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs responsible for South Asia, Ben Bradshaw, is visiting Nepal 18-19 Feburary. He will be meeting Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and King Gyanendra. Bradshaw is a former journalist and was the BBC's Berlin correspondent in 1990. Nepali Times asked Bradshaw some questions about his visit, the Maoist insurgency and Gurkha pension.

What is the main reason for your visit to Nepal?
Britain and Nepal have extremely long-standing ties. The Gurkha relationship, and in particular the exceptionally high standing in which these brave Nepali soldiers are held in the United Kingdom, is an important mainstay. We are both monarchies. The UK is one of Nepal's chief donor partners. The events of 11 September and efforts to combat global terrorism only serve to make the dialogue between our two governments and countries all the more important, and we want to offer our full support to the government of Nepal in its attempts to find a resolution to the insurgency.

Will you be offering any specific advice to the government on the resolution of the Maoist insurgency?
Obviously this will be a key point of interest in the talks I shall be having with political leaders during my visit. We support the democratically-elected government, and recognise the right and obligation of government to provide security to its people. The European Union has condemned the Maoist attacks which brought a violent return to conflict in Nepal, and we have expressed our concern about possible abuses of human rights in the country, including barbaric acts by the insurgents. We believe that the government went to great lengths to ensure a conducive atmosphere for the three rounds of peace talks last year, and I would encourage both sides to make every effort to achieve a solution which will result in the renunciation of violence and bring the Maoists back into the political mainstream. Only then will Nepal achieve the prosperity which its people deserve.

Some Gurkha ex-servicemen say the issue of pensions exposes the British government's double standards. Do you see this as an ethical issue?
No I do not see this as an ethical issue. It is important to look at the details of pension arrangements. I don't think that most of our pensioners now benefiting from the significant increase in April 2000 oppose them. British Army pensions are complicated and for very good reasons reflect two different systems. One is for Gurkha soldiers and one is for British soldiers. The Gurkha system involves the soldier serving for a minimum of 15 years, with an immediate index-linked pension available on discharge. For British soldiers to get the same deal they have to serve for 22 years, and then wait until the age of 60 before they benefit from any index-linking. So, on average a Gurkha soldier's pension is paid seven years earlier than that of an equivalent British serviceman. But there is a key point here: the majority of British soldiers leave the Army at about the nine or 12 year point in their service. This results in over 90 percent of British soldiers not qualifying for immediate pensions and having to wait until 60 to claim a preserved pension. If this system was applied to the Brigade of Gurkhas, many Gurkha soldiers would have to wait until the age of 60 before receiving any pension at all. Most would agree that the need for an immediate pension is compelling in Nepal.

Does the British government envisage an increase in the recruitment levels of Gurkha soldiers in future due to shortfalls in enlistment at home?
Gurkhas are a valuable and integral part of the British Army and will remain so foreseeably. But Gurkhas do not serve in all areas and there is therefore a limit to the extent to which they can be considered interchangeable with British personnel. There are no plans to change current recruitment levels.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)