Gurkha regiment in India
Gurkha soldiers are well known for toughness and courage, live close to the Himalayan mountains, and serve in three armies – the Nepalese, Indian and BritishGetty

India has reportedly offered to send its Gurkhas to protect the Sultanate of Brunei, a role currently performed by the British Army. The Brunei has been in the midst of an ongoing territorial dispute with China and the sultanate has been protected by British military support since 1984.

During an official visit to Brunei on 2 February Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari signed a bilateral defence agreement, said to involve joint military exercises and training. India has offered to provide the services of its retired soldiers, particularly ones from the Gurkha Regiment, for the defence agreement, the Indian Express reported.

Defence cooperation between India and Brunei has already been in place through naval ship visits and the training of military officers. The new agreement is said to "institutionalise" cooperation between the two countries and could raise fears about the future of the sultan's deal with Britain, which presently sees him pay tens of millions of pounds every year for the 1,000 British Army officials in the region.

In February 2015 Prime Minsiter David Cameron renewed the British Army deal with the sultanate, effectively keeping the battalion of Royal Gurkha Rifles in Brunei for another five years. However, the sultanate also has another army that includes a Gurkha unit primarily made up of former British Gurkhas who made the decision to stay in the country after retiring. A defence source told the Telegraph that this reserve is likely to be affected by any India-Brunei defence deal.

The source said: "There's absolutely no question that the Royal Gurkha Rifles battalion is going to be replaced by Indian Gurkhas."

Brunei and China have been facing an ongoing territorial dispute over the South China Sea and India hopes that joint military exercises will strengthen Brunei against China's claims. Hamid is believed to have discussed the dispute during his visit to Brunei, with an Indian military source in Brunei telling the Hindu that defence cooperation would "secure India's energy lanes to Brunei".

Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said: "Brunei briefed us on the negotiation under way for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. India supports a negotiated settlement of Brunei's maritime dispute with China."

Who are the Indian Gurkhas?

The Gurkhas are originally soldiers from Nepal and became a part of the British Army when the East India Company's invasion of Nepal in 1814. After suffering a heavy number of casualties at the hands of Nepal's Gurkha soldiers, the British signed a peace deal that offered to pay the Gurkhas to join their army. Roughly 200,000 Gurkhas are then believed to have fought in the British Army during the First and Second World Wars.

Following the partition of India in 1947, Nepal, India and Britain signed an agreement to transfer four Gurkha regiments from the British Army to the Indian Army. The regiments transferred to the Indian Army became known as India's Gurkha Brigade.