The Brunei force was set up in 1974 with 27 former Gurkhas of the British Army and Gurkha Contingent, Singapore (Nepalis serve as policemen in Singapore). It was originally called Gurkha Security Guard but in 1981, the British and Brunei government decided to form the GRU, and had former British Gurkha soldiers serving in the new unit had to work as regular soldiers.
Ever since it was converted into GRU, the Brunei government kept augmenting its strength. By 1996, the GRU’s numbers crossed 2,500 — as big as a brigade strength in the British Army. I was a British Gurkha soldier, and joined the GRU in May 1996 even though I had signed the contract paperwork as ‘security guard’. When we got there, we were forced to work as infantry soldiers.
Most ex-British Gurkha soldiers serving in the GRU were above 45, and the situation was pathetic. Us over-the-hill Gurkhas were compelled to run Battle Fitness Test (BFT) and Combat Fitness Test (CFT), fire heavy weapons and often had to participate in weeks-long exercises in the dense tropical jungles of Borneo.
Despite being fit, some ex-Gurkhas died of exhaustion during physically demanding jungle exercises. Their salaries had remained stagnant for many lustrums. The other big transgression was that the British government used to charge 2,500 Brunei dollars (USD 1,870) per Gurkha soldier as monthly salary from Brunei, but but gave us only BND1,100.
Essentially, Britain has been trading in Gurkhas for the last 205 years, ever since the Rana oligarchy in Nepal used us as its main tool of diplomacy. As scholar May Des Chene writes: ‘Gurkhas have been sold and bartered and they have been the coin of international diplomacy at key moments in Nepalese history.’
The ‘Gurkha Contingent’ in Singapore has 2,000 young Nepali soldiers serving as policeman. The Singapore contingent itself was formed in 1949 after the end of the Pacific War, and after 71 years there is still no bilateral treaty between Singapore and Nepal governing recruitment.
It is the British Army that recruits Nepalis on behalf of the Singaporeans. The question is: Who authorised this arrangement? Why is it still going on? Scores of so-called democratic governments have come and gone in Nepal, and no one has shown much concern about this affront to the country’s sovereignty.
The Gurkhas in Singapore were kept in British Army enclaves until the late 1990s. Many of them are married, but some 1,500 of these young, educated and dynamic Nepali women are confined to the base and not allowed to work in Singapore.