The Gurkha Regiment is a household name in the military world. But should Nepal continue to send its elite soldiers to fight for nations that mistreat it?
The Battle of Plassey was the precursor to colonialism in India, which taught modern India how the East India Company took advantage of a domestic power tussle in Bengal and ruled the country for the next 200 years.
India’s transition to independence and democracy still suffers from the ghosts of colonialism.
The tactics deployed by the British became a tool for post-1947 India. Nepal has suffered from those elements, but India and the United Kingdom assert that the country should uphold the 1947 tripartite agreement, where Nepali youths serve in their respective militaries regardless of how they treat the country.
India’s loathsome avarice for regional dominance by creating instability in its neighbours has become a major headache in South Asia.
Today, India stands isolated, partly because of its domineering policies, and the meteoric rise of China. India has imposed two economic blockades on Nepal, usurped a Maoist rebellion that overthrew the monarchy, exerts political interference, deploys hard power tactics whenever Nepal gets close to China, and promises developmental projects but keeps the country underdeveloped.
On top of all of that, it also expects Nepal to send its youth to fight for its expansionist adventurism. If the relationship with the British Raj taught Nepal anything, then our current leaders should question why the nation’s elite soldiers should fight for India - a country that doesn't view Nepal as an equal.
The seventy-three-year-old tripartite agreement transferred six Gurkha regiments to India, where Nepali youths protect Indian borders. Eleven Gorkha rifles were raised post-1947 and now 39 battalions are serving in the seven regiments in the Indian army.
The Gurkha regiments have served the Indian army in its major wars, including the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, the Battle of Sylhet, Sino-Indian war of 1962. Lest India forgets, but the Galwan Valley was saved by Nepali Gurkha soldiers in the 1962 Indo-China war.
Despite Nepal’s maximum military contributions to India’s border protection and interests, it has mistreated Nepal immensely and even occupied Nepal’s territories.
Around 30,000 Nepali Gurkha soldiers serve in the Indian army, which brings $1 billion a year to Nepal, along with $800 million in pensions. But how long should Nepal depend on the remittances and compromise on its future interests?
The United Kingdom is no longer a superpower and mostly serves the interests of the United States. Nepali youths are a part of the Brigade of Gurkhas, where four regiments serve Britain post-1947.
The Anglo-Nepalese war during 1814-16 left a damning impression on the East Indian Company as they were quick to recognise the valour and tenacity of Gurkha soldiers. It was from then on that the British Raj was successful in luring Nepali youths and used them as mercenaries for their war victories.
Such dichotomous behaviour in a fast-changing multi-polar world should mean that Nepal can no longer afford to sell its youth for money. The skirmishes between the UK and other rising powers like China also complicates Nepal’s position since the latter is its immediate neighbour and in recent times the relationship has deepened.
How will India react if Nepal and China decide to form a Gurkha regiment in the People’s Liberation Army? The reaction will be reactive and perhaps India’s decision to not attack Nepal militarily will come to an end.
So far Nepal has stretched its arms and protected India’s borders but they continue to uphold ‘controlled instability’, which has already turned out to be ill-advised, paving the way for border disputes between the two countries.
India's refusal to accept Nepal’s bid for ‘Zone of Peace’ in 1975 is a stark reminder that it will never accept demilitarisation in South Asia because of its fear of its neighbours.
The recent tussle between China and India will only lead to excessive militarisation of South Asia. But can Nepal continue its relationship with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and China by sending its youth to war against them under the Indian army?
All South Asian countries except Bhutan has been subjected to India’s expansionist aggression and Nepali youth continue to lose their lives in the wars between its neighbours. This has to stop if we are to mollify public sentiment and honour the sacrifices of Gurkha soldiers of the historic Kingdom of Nepal.
Nepal, in recent years, has put forward proposals to the United Kingdom about reviewing the 1947 tripartite government, but the onus is on Nepal to either nullify the agreement or continue to be a tool for India and the United Kingdom’s military activities, and portray the image of Gurkha soldiers as ‘mercenaries’ rather than a brigade that serves Nepal.
If both countries cannot respect Nepal’s sovereignty and rather work against it, then Nepal should not hesitate to withdraw its regiments from the two countries. Power and sovereignty are temporary, but Nepal’s zeal to foment military aggression cemented its existence during the rise of the East India Company.
Without power, Nepal has to remain neutral. When it feels powerful enough, the story might be different.
Nepal stands at a difficult juncture where the confluence of military investment and constant border disputes in the region, puts the less-militarised Himalayan nation in a catch-22.
The country can no longer trust India’s intentions or be lax with regards to Chinese engagement. History has taught Nepal that its elite force can only ally with those that guarantee the state’s sovereignty. The future should look no different.
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