Bravest of brave Gorkhas
The international draw down from Afghanistan of 2014 is upon the Indian subcontinent and 9,600 American residual forces will be left there. This will set the stage free for Pakistan to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan by unleashing Taliban and then turning to Kashmir. However, a wily bunch of ‘Gorkhas’, fighting for private contractors in Afghanistan with the knowledge of the United Nations have earned laurels and opened a window of opportunity for India in furtherance of her strategic aims. Major (Retd), Rajendra Singh Thapa, a veteran of Kargil war, who has spent four complete turbulent action filled years and is now safely home on retirement has interesting stories to narrate.
The Gorkhas have a way of smelling their way into battle and Afghanistan is no different. From the days of Moghuls they have been at the centre of action, thus it was axiomatic that they would find their way into Afghanistan. How did the Gorkhas get into Afghanistan, what is the foreign connection and how did the Americans accept them are questions that remain but can be inferred from the Majors saga. The need for boots on the ground is always very heavy in counter insurgency, thus the westerners shy of body bags curtailed their own manpower and employed trained manpower from private contractors. Initially there were many American firms; the British short of manpower employed Gorkhas. Most companies initially started their business in Iraq but finally shifted to Afghanistan. Initially in 2001 they started with about 30 odd people but by 2010 the recruitment levels increased and today by modest estimates there would be around 19,000 exes – Indian Army trained Gorkhas serving in Afghanistan, he could be a citizen of India or Nepal. A citizen of Nepal is called a Nepali , but when a citizen of Nepal or India trained and served in the Indian Army Gorkha regiments meets two criteria’s, that of a soldier and citizenship is colloquially referred to as Gorkha, and this identity has now taken a hue of the state in India of Gorkhaland.
As per the veteran the initial plan was to recruit the retired British and Singapore Police Gorkha contingent personal, but on account of two factors the numbers were few and expensive because of a higher standard of living cheaper manpower was sought. The Gorkha is cheap hardy tough material, worth his weight in gold and not expensive at all. Of course there are other Indians there as cooks, laundry men, refrigerator mechanics and other jobs as well, but none in combat role barring aside the official ITBP contingent.
The Gorkhas guard the inner tier in the three tier defence system and the UN mission staffs are so dependent on them that once there was talk to remove the Gorkhas the mission employees protested saying ‘they will not stay without their trusted Gorkhas’. It is axiomatic but true that as per the veteran the inner core security of American, British and Norwegian embassies have Gorkhas. In the outer tier are the Afghan police, the second tier has the national unarmed security guard, including UN staff, whose basic job is access control. The inner most intimate protection is entrusted to Gorkhas, thus Narendra Modi was right when he said at an election rally in West Bengal that Gorkhas are the most trusted people. Are Gorkhas armed, certainly yes, armed by civil company with AK-47 assault rifles, because as per international laws no heavy caliber weapons are permitted to non-combatants? In any case the Khukri is more effective than any weapon.
The Indian official position is that there will be no troops on the ground in Afghanistan, so how do the International agencies beat the system. A private contractor comes to various Gorkha dominated areas in India such as the three D’, namely Dehra-Dun, Dharamsala, and Darjeeling, and identify the personal by doing the initial interview. The detailed physical, psychological and medical tests are carried out in Kathmandu, the criteria is very simple Indian army trained veterans are preferred. It is not known nor can be verified by this author if Nepal army trained veterans join in, as they lack the high state of training of Indian Army insurgency experience, which other nations are exploiting. The man once recruited gets a three or four days orientation course regarding local traditions and is fit for duty at the cheapest cost.
Who controls the strings of the private security companies? This is done by the Afghan ministry of interior, and the ISAF, who have issued stringent guidelines, and all the private operators have to adhere to them. Is there a human angle to this certainly yes, there has been loss of life inevitable in battle, battle causalities with gunshot injuries have been treated in leading hospitals here in India.
The economics are each veteran gets around $700 to $800 a month a mere pittance for his duty, the
nation trains a soldier others exploit it and there are no government remittances for this trained manpower. Other salary structures are supervisors $1,500 to $2,000 a month, officers employed by very few companies, $4,000 to $5000 a month, whereas, if a British officer is employed he would have to be paid $7500 a month.
As per the author there a strategic avenue that the Gorkhas have opened, can the Indian nation have enough private operators in Afghanistan post the draw down to ensure India’s strategic interests are guarded. If the answer is yes than certainly the Gorkhas have shown the way.
There is a way to outflank Pakistan from the West and the enterprise of the wily Gorkhas has shown the way. Will the foreign policy mandarins who believe in more talk and less action exploit this
window of opportunity as the Gorkha soldier has done. The nation at least needs to ensure it gets its due from its own trained manpower. India needs an out of box solution. The down trodden soldiers at the risk of their lives have shown the way for higher strategic pundits.
The author is a retired brigadier