February 15, 2010: The Emir of Kuwait is seeking to hire Gurkhas as bodyguards. Hiring foreigners for key security jobs is an old tradition in the Middle East. For over a decade, Saudi Arabia had one or more brigades of Baluchi (Pakistani) mercenaries stationed in the country. Chechens, and other Moslems from the Caucasus, have long been popular as bodyguards in the region. Local notables favored these foreigners because, once bought, they stayed bought. Loyalty is a very important trait for bodyguards. But the Gurkhas have achieved a unique reputation over the last century. The Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills, discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English, which has become the international language for security specialists. Suddenly, everyone wants to be guarded by these mountain tribesmen from Nepal.
Gurkhas have been recruited for over two centuries from Nepal, where the Gurkha tribes live. There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don't make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you're closer to home.
Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century. Although the Nepalis lost, they became allies of the British after a peace treaty was worked out. It was during these border wars that the British noted the military prowess of the Gurkha tribesmen. The British colonial army in India tended to hire from tribes and ethnic groups that appeared to make better soldiers, and Gurkhas soon made a reputation for themselves in British service. Since then, over half a million Nepalis have served in the British army, with about ten percent of them dying in combat (over 80 percent of those during the two world wars.)
The United Kingdom now pays retired Gurkha soldiers at the same rate as other British soldiers. That will mean a Gurkhas annual pension is nearly $12,000. The average income in Nepal is about $200 a year. The British pension (for 15 years service) makes veterans living in Nepal quite wealthy, by Nepalese standards. However, an increasing number of Gurkhas have been retiring in Britain, instead of returning to Nepal. Being a bodyguard is one of the more attractive second careers for retired Gurkhas in Britain. There are several companies in Britain that specialize in providing Gurkhas for security work. Many Gurkhas were hired for key security jobs in Iraq, and now Afghanistan. These Gurkhas earned a reputation of reliability that has spread, as has the number of potential employers.