Tonight, a very special event will take place at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. In the presence of the Queen and other Royals, a pageant will showcase the two hundredth anniversary of Gurkha service in the British army. Amid the spectacular show, there will be an opportunity, too, to reflect on the devastation that has engulfed Nepal since the recent earthquake and its aftershock, and to strengthen the bonds between our two countries given our strong military past and our promising economic future.
The Gurkhas have long held a special place in the nation’s heart. Since 1815, they have served in the British army in every major conflict. They have built a reputation as effective and fearsome soldiers. Over the course of this period, they have sustained many casualties, including a total of 40,000 deaths in their Brigade in the two world wars.
To this day, they continue to serve in the British army with pride and distinction. After completing his tour in Afghanistan, Prince Harry memorably said that there was “no safer place” to be than by the side of a Gurkha.
The charity organising tonight’s pageant, the Gurkha Welfare Trust, looks after thousands of retired Gurkhas and their widows, ensuring they can live in dignity. The actress Joanna Lumley famously championed their rights and enabled more to settle in the UK. At Standard Chartered, we are the principal bankers for the Gurkhas, and manage pensions for the 32,000 ex-service personnel who receive British Gurkha Nepal (BGN) pensions.
Another element adding to the poignancy of tonight’s event will be the solidarity with Nepal after the earthquake on 25 April and its aftershock, which have killed more than 8,000 people. Like many other groups, the Gurkhas have suffered injuries and fatalities, along with destruction of homes. The hill town of Gorkha, where the relationship with Britain started 200 years ago, has been damaged.
Yet the response of the Gurkha soldiers has been generous and immediate, and they have been at the forefront of recovery efforts. Similarly, as the largest international bank in Nepal and with a presence there since 1987, we are not in the country merely to do business. Our relationship goes beyond the transactional, which is what motivated the Bank to launch a staff fundraiser for our disaster relief partners, Nepal Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. Businesses like ours and the rest of the private sector have a pivotal role to play in the ongoing recovery, once the first phase of the crisis is over.
Beyond the short-term turmoil, Nepal and the wider Asian continent offer interesting economic opportunities for the UK. While Nepal’s growth rate for this year has been cut from 5 to 4 per cent as a result of the earthquake, it still has growth potential if it can maximise its strengths. These include its iconic tourism, the hydropower sector, as well as the virtue of being sandwiched between China and India. It’s in the UK’s interests to build our relationship with countries in Asia. The growth rate of many economies in the wider region is 5-7 per cent, and this will offer lucrative trade and investment opportunities for British businesses over the years.
Strong friendships are often forged in adverse conditions. The fantastic service offered by the Gurkhas is testament to that. By the same token, the response of the UK government, business and NGOs to the recent earthquake has shown that we are more than fair-weather friends.