Tensions between India and China continue to simmer in Ladakh of Jammu & Kashmir. Chances of escalation are high as the Indian media report a massive build-up of Chinese forces in the Galwan Valley. Apparently, the Chinese have also rebuilt the camp, just inside India’s borders, which the Indian forces had earlier destroyed. China, meanwhile, maintains it is India that needlessly provoked the Chinese contingent in Galwan. Troublingly, both sides continue to increase their troop presence in the area.
Among those deployed on India’s behalf will be the Nepali nationals serving in its six Gurkha regiments. There are currently around 40,000 of them. There has been a lengthy debate in Nepal on whether the country should continue to send its able-bodied men to fight—and sometimes die—on behalf of another country. The problem is compounded for Nepal whenever India faces off against China, Nepal’s only other neighbor. Can India use the citizens of Nepal—which has traditionally had close and largely problem-free ties with the northern neighbor—to fight the Chinese?
Nepali foreign ministry officials say there has never been a formal protest from China over the deployment of Gurkha soldiers, who have repeatedly engaged in combat against the Chinese on India’s behalf since the early 1960s. With India-China tensions mounting again, the Gurkha soldiers of the Indian Army on leave in Nepal are being summoned back to duty. In this light, the splinter Maoist group led by Netra Bikram Chand, in a June 20 statement, ‘reminded’ India to desist from using Nepali soldiers against China.
Despite such concerns, Nepal is in no position to ask India not to use the Gurkhas against China. “We have to accept the reality that they are part of the Indian defense system. We can do nothing about it,” says political analyst Krishna Khanal. Though it is an emotional issue for Nepalis, he argues the Indian defense force can deploy them as they wish.
Nepal has never brought up the issue of revisiting Gurkha recruitment with India. But it sent a note to Britain in February this year, seeking a review of the tripartite agreement signed in 1947 between Nepal, India, and Britain that split the Gurkha regiments between India and Britain. In an initial reaction, Britain refused to change the agreement.
Till date, Nepalis continue to be recruited into the Indian Army. Lured by attractive salary, pensions, and other social security benefits, they join the Indian Army and take an oath to protect India’s national interests. According to Ashok Mehta, an old Nepal hand in New Delhi, Nepali youths in the Indian Army get four times the salary and pensions they would get in Nepal Army.
The Covid-19 crisis has battered the Nepali economy and rendered hundreds of thousands jobless. This is surely not the right time for Nepal to ask its nationals in the Indian Army to come back or to stop recruitment into the force. But Nepal may find itself in a tricky spot if China asks it to reconsider.