Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Market for soldiers: the Ghurkas

The hiring of mercenaries is widely repugnant (the Geneva Conventions sharply distinguish between soldiers and mercenaries: “A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.”). A notable exception is the long standing relationship between the British Army and the Nepalese Ghurkas. Recently the British courts have required the army to treat retired Ghurkas somewhat more like regular Army retirees, and two articles in the London Times explore the story.

Nepal’s middle classes steal a march on path to riches reports that
"The problem is that the benefits of the job now outstrip the average in Nepal’s private sector by so much that even relatively wealthy members of the urban middle class are queuing up to enlist. The recruits used to come mainly from poor villages in the hills, where a Gurkha salary and pension, though less than those paid to the rest of the British Army until recently, were enough to support a large family for life. That started to change in 2007, when the British Government accepted the Gurkhas’ demands for the same terms and conditions as the rest of the Army. "...
"The most obvious effect in Nepal is that dozens of private Gurkha training schools have sprung up in the main recruiting areas to help to give prospective recruits a competitive edge. The schools typically charge would-be male recruits about 3,000 rupees (£27) a month for classes in maths and English and physical training. Women pay 1,000 rupees for a two-hour early-morning workout, six days a week, for three months. "...

"The Nepalese Government has backed away from a pledge to ban the country’s citizens from serving in a foreign army, which it described until recently as humiliating, but is concerned about a potential brain drain. "

Another story recounts some of the history of the Gurkhas:
"The Gurkhas fought the British in the 1814-16 Gurkha War. They impressed their enemy and later agreed to become British mercenaries "

The story also includes a remark on the changing technology of warfare:
"Their trademark is the kukri knife, which tradition demands must draw blood every time that it is unsheathed. Gurkhas say that today, however, the knife is used more often in cooking "

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