Saturday, March 1, 2008

Prince Harry, Nepal, the Geneva Convention. Not exactly what you might think.

A few days ago I was reading about how Prince Harry was reported to have been serving in an active military roll in Afghanistan. To be honest, I don't really care for the Royals, but what caught my eye was a comment "the third in line" made. He mentioned that his Ghurka compatriots thought the term "bullet magnet" was endlessly funny. Really nothing more than an anecdote, it caught my eye because I remembered how when I was young, my dad would read me military stories (how filial eh??), stuff like "All Quiet on the Western Front" or
"And no Birds Sang" (one of my favorite books). It was one of these occasions that he told me about the Ghurka soldiers.

He once recounted a story, on how while serving in India, to prove their military prowess, Gurkha soldiers sneaked into an enemy encampment, killing every second soldier as they slept, using their traditional "Kurki" knives. I had since heard little of them...

Recruited from the hills of Nepal, Ghurkas were introduced to the western world through their adoption into the British military during their colonization of India. It was discovered that the Nepalese were tenacious, loyal and well disciplined, in other words, ideal soldiers. The Gurkhas became an integral part of British forces, serving in many conflicts from the Sikh wars in India to the Falkland Islands War with Argentina.

Gurkha soldiers are not considered mercenaries due to international law stemming from
1949. The Geneva Convention specifies that certain "formed units of troops" (the French foreign legion, the Swiss Guard of the Vatican) serving foreign governments are not considered mercenaries due to their status of having sworn themselves to service in their host country. Further, they are integrated into the chain of command of the country, unlike a Private Security Contingent.

Gurkhas are in Brunei, where the Sultan floats the 40 million pounds annually for their service, and in Singapore as special anti-terror police. There are also Gurkhas in the Indian army. They must be above 5' 2", 110lbs, have perfect, unaided vision, educated and a Chest circumference of 79 cms with a minimum 5cm expansion. Annually there are 20 000 applicants to 370 positions. Their services have become a lucrative export, as their value has meant equal treatment and compensation to their British counterparts. It is said that the Brigade of the Gurkhas "is a significant source of income for Nepal."