Gurkhas forge relationships in Afghanistan
Three months into their current Helmand deployment, soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles (2 RGR) are using their language skills to build relationships with their partners in the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan locals.
For many of the Gurkhas, this is their fourth or fifth tour of Afghanistan. This experience, added to the shared language they have with Afghans have made them excellent assets to ISAF in Helmand province.
The Gurkhas speak Urdu, widely spoken as a a second or third language in Afghanistan.
There are numerous benefits of this: better relationships can be formed, ones not based around small talk, but proper conversations about home, politics and, of course, sharing jokes.
Having heard the Gurkhas reputation of being fierce fighters, at the start of the tour locals in the Nahr-e Saraj area had been afraid. However, once the riflemen from 2 RGR’s A Company were out and engaging with the local population, these fears were soon allayed.
Police Advisory Team (PAT) commander Sergeant Basanta Rai says the affinity between the two cultures, based on similar lifestyles and the ability to converse in Urdu, allow close relationships to be formed between that Afghans and Gurkhas:
“‘Sangeya, kaisay ho yaar?’ – a mixture of Pashto and Hindu greeting with a smile and a firm handshake starts my daily engagement with the Afghan National Police of Nad ‘Ali South,” he said.
“I won’t lie in saying that my Pashto is getting any better, but our handshakes have already converted to ‘cheek-banging’ greetings and Afghani embraces during our every encounter. Over time we have become close, and the word ‘andiwal’ (friend) is used to prefix our names.”
Captain James Arney, a 2 RGR officer commanding the PAT, based in Babaji, has noticed the benefits of having his team of Gurkhas as mentors:
“Culturally, Nepal and Afghanistan is not so dissimilar. Eating is a shared activity; a time to bond and show generosity. Just like the Gurkhas share their seemingly endless supply of ‘maccha’ (food), the AUP, despite having little, share their naan [a traditional bread] and cucumbers over lunch.
They cook together and eat together just like the Gurkhas ‘khaida’ of messing.”
Gurkhas are renowned for their patience, largely due to their rural upbringing and the knowledge that everything takes time: waiting for the crops to grow, collecting water or travelling for days to see a doctor. Patience is crucial when in a mentoring role. Gurkhas apply the correct method: smile, laugh it off, and try again the next day.
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