In a development that can be considered a fallout of dwindling job prospects in Nepal and a new recruitment policy in India, Nepali citizens are joining the Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner group as mercenaries.
Some of them have even retired from the Nepal Army. And their eyes are on the citizenship that Russian President Vladimir Putin is offering foreign fighters.
The Nepal government has been caught off guard as it doesn’t have any bilateral pacts with Russia, and the Nepal Embassy in Moscow has been claiming that the youngsters are going in their “personal” capacity.
Over a dozen Nepali youths are getting trained in handling weapons and fighting. This comes as President Putin signed a decree on May 16, 2023, simplifying the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for foreign nationals who join its ranks in this war, an offer that is too hard for Nepali youngsters to resist, with the unemployment rate at 11.12 percent.
With Russia suffering heavy losses in the self-initiated war against Ukraine, it offers fast-tracked citizenship to foreigners who enter a year-long contract with the Russian Army in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.”
To sweeten the deal, Russia is offering simplified Russian citizenship to the family members of these foreigners as well.
“This is a concerning situation. The Nepal government is not able to do anything about it as they have gone in an individual capacity,” strategic analyst Major General Binoj Basnyat (retired) from the Nepal Army told the EurAsian Times.
He adds: “If Nepalese citizens are part of the military forces of a sovereign nation, it has to be part of the government’s foreign policy, or there has to be a Memorandum of Understanding or a treaty with the other country. No such instruments are in place in this case.”
He maintained that the Nepal government needs to address it at the earliest.
If we don’t die in one year, we can live here: Nepali Youth
Several videos have surfaced on social media sites like Tiktok, Telegram, and YouTube for the past few weeks, showing Nepali youths joining the Russian Army.
In some videos, the Nepali youth can be seen training, and in some videos, they can be seen going to the training location. Some of these videos are shot by the Nepali youths themselves, and some are made by others.
One of the youngsters the Nepal Press has gained access to is from the Koshi region in the country. He was studying at the Russian state university. His visa was going to expire. He elucidates that he had two options after finishing his studies – either return to Nepal and be unemployed or get a job in the Russian Army.
There had been reports of citizens of Nepal joining the French Legion, but entering Russia is easier than entering Europe. Good physical fitness makes it easier for Nepali youth to enter the ranks and files of PMC.
“We are being taught how to use modern weapons. Training takes place throughout the day and sometimes even at night. Even during the training period, the salary is about fifty thousand Nepalese rupees, along with insurance. After one year, citizenship is also available. If I don’t die in one year, I will live here,” the Nepali youth from Koshi says without revealing his identity.
Another case of a youth from the Karnali region leaving the Nepalese Army to join the mercenaries in Russia has come to light. His training in his home country’s Army also came in handy in securing a place with the Russian forces.
“We are in a place with mountains like Nepal. I am here with about two hundred foreigners and three Nepali friends. We were thinking of joining the French Army. There was a long process, and it was difficult to enter Europe. Russia is easy,” the youth from Karnali is quoted as saying.
The Wagner group has waived the requirement of knowing the Russian language. Now even English suffices.
Maj Gen Basnyat gives a peep into the frustration of the Nepali youth. “After completing their studies, large and large numbers of youngsters are coming out for employment, but Nepal has not been able to absorb them. The number of youth looking to leave for other countries in search of jobs and opportunities has shot up,” the former Nepal Army officer added.
According to the International Labour Organisation, Nepal is a young country, with 63.7 percent of the total population below the age of 30. The unemployment rate of youth aged 15-29 is 19.2 percent. Over 400,000 young people are estimated to enter the labor force annually.
Also, the majority of employment opportunities are in the informal segments of the country with poor working conditions and wages. Hence, a large number of Nepali youngsters are migrating overseas.
And in Russia, the lure of citizenship for not only themselves but also their family members is a deal clincher for these youngsters.
The Indian Army’s Agnipath scheme did dent in Nepali youth’s prospects.
The Nepalis are known for their warrior streaks. As the EurAsian Times had earlier reported, not a single Nepalese Gorkha/ Gurkha will be joining the Indian Army in 2023. The Communist government in Nepal has decided not to allow the recruitment of the 1,300-odd Gorkhas who join the Indian Army annually.
The Indian Army has been lucrative for the Nepalese youth as the payment has been 2.5 times what the Nepalese Army pays, and the pension provides economic and social security. The job in the Indian Army also provides Nepalese nationals with the option to settle down in India.
The predicament has been the newly launched four-year-service Agnipath (Fire Warriors) scheme of the Indian Army. Under the new scheme, the Indian government has drastically altered the recruitment procedure to cut down the burgeoning pension bill and simultaneously make the forces younger and leaner.
The new scheme entails catching the recruits young, conducting a part of their training on the job, and retiring three-fourths of the batch after four years without any pension but with a compensation package.
“Agnipath has indeed created problems that India and Nepal would have been better off without. This new entry scheme was not part of the tripartite agreement. There has been no discussion between the two countries about it,” Maj Gen Bisnyat said.
Gorkha, respected globally as the fiercest soldier, has been recruited in the Indian Army and the British Army since 1815. The British had raised the Gorkha regiments, and they fought bravely in various military expeditions.
Later on, after the independence in 1947, the Indian Army retained six regiments of Gorkha soldiers while four went to the British Army as part of a tripartite agreement between India, Nepal, and the UK.
“There are two important points against it. One the 75 percent of recruits returning home add to the unemployment problem. Also, military-trained people coming back can be tapped by undesirable non-state actors,” the officer added.
As the two countries sort out their political problems, the Nepali youth stuck between unemployment and war have chosen to risk dying to live better lives.
- Ritu Sharma has written on defense and foreign affairs for over a decade. She holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Studies and Management of Peace from the University of Erfurt, Germany. Her areas of interest include Asia-Pacific, the South China Sea, and Aviation history.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com