Written By: Ayesha Farooq
The story comes from Labado, which is a major town of East Darfur comprising a population of 17200, out of which 70-80% are from Zaghawa and Fur tribes (non-Arabs). Arab tribes residing in the area are Reziget, Falata and Mysria. Also, there are temporary settlers which include 1500 Arab nomads and 2500 farmers/shepherds from surrounding areas. The total number of villages in the area are 18 which, however, are abandoned since most of the population has been relocated to IDPs’ Camp that is located 50-70 metres adjacent to the UN team site at Labado.
The day was just another ordinary one, shepherds watching over their livestock, farmers engaged in their strenuous routines, the tribe of Zaghawa was silent amidst the unruffled melodies folks composed in the course of their mundane affairs until Arab nomads decided to evoke chaos. Gun shots, one after the other disrupted the silence leaving the entire population in a disarrayed state. Upon inquiry, the cause of disturbance turned out to be an attack on the herds of livestock that belonged to Zaghawa Tribe followed by the outrageous retaliation by farmers, killing two of the attackers belonging to the Reziget tribe. The Internally Displaced People (IDPs) found themselves surrounded by terror and panic as they anticipated the repercussions from the Arab nomads.
By the time the sun set, news about Reziget tribe summoning all Arabs to gather at a distant location, setting course for taking revenge had spread widely, doing no good but increasing the worries of the IDPs manifold. Tribal elders of Zaghawa gathered outside the gate of Labado team site and requested to meet the Commanding Officer (CO) of Pakistani Battalion, 25 Baloch Regiment. They informed about build-up of Reziget tribe from all over Darfur and their advance towards Labado. The confirmation of reports by official channels alarmed the IDPs gravely who were now flocking outside the camp premises.
Pakistani Battalion took thoughtful note of the events and immediately came into action dispatching a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) tasked to monitor the assemblage of IDPs. Keeping the protection of unarmed civilians as the utmost priority, the CO convened a meeting with the Peacekeeping Forces, their objective being amicable tackling of the developing situation. Firstly the QRF fortified the guard posts, patrolling within the team site and surroundings of IDPs Camp followed by launching a hotline with the Sector Headquarters. Moreover, with the provision of basic necessities, a platoon-sized team was tasked to shift IDPs to a safe location which was protected by APCs and strong cordons. Orders for troops to use force under the rules of engagement were proceeded and an evacuation plan for United Nations staff was chalked out. The efforts bore fruit as they lessened the apprehensions among IDPs. Throughout, Pakistani Battalion displayed a strong aggressive posture despite the fact that it lacked firepower of automatics as its weapons were still held with Sudan custom authorities for custom clearance.
Such considerate responsiveness was a rare sight to the civilians having been used to of indifferent attitude of Peacekeeping Forces in the past.
Around 0400 hours, the news about Arab nomads reached the vicinity causing a rift in the composure set by Pakistani Battalion and the IDPs started throwing their kids and belongings inside the team site. Despite the countless announcements on megaphones, 400 children and women were able to enter the team site. Increasing the patrol frequency somehow simmered down the IDPs. Pakistani soldiers preserved the legacy of their dauntless dedication in every task they were assigned. In spite of the night patrolling, their morale never saw a decline, they moved back to base only to replenish their resources and were back on duty in a blink.
By 0930 hours, what the army saw was an unpleasant sight; armed vehicles. APCs verified that mounted on vehicles, camels and horses, more than 600 heavily armed Arab nomads had cordoned Labado and surrounding areas to avenge the killings of their brothers. They were heavily equipped with anti-aircraft guns, RPG-7, Machine Guns, and grenades.
Upon reaching the team site, outrageous armed factions demanded the Peacekeeping Forces to cut the interference and let them deal considering it was their tribal matter. Pakistani Battalion however, decided to take up a proactive approach and robust posturing of the APC borne patrol facilitated the initiation of negotiations. The fuming defiance became a rather calmer disposition as the strict caution of a strong reaction against any harm to the unarmed civilians, UN personnel and assets were given by Pakistani forces. The preventive diplomacy had very well compelled the nomads to reconsider their course of action and they finally agreed to come to the table. The leaders of the armed factions were guided to the team site where they were disarmed and brought to the conference room.
The CO of Pakistani Battalion clarified the stance of Peacekeeping Forces and stated that peace is what their supreme priority is, and shall remain. So reinforcement was called from the Shaeria team site as the Commander Brigadier General IN Ijioma was apprised of the situation in the meanwhile. However, since the tribal elders from Zaghawa were not present as of then and were on their way from Muhajaria, the efforts weren’t fruitful leading the scenario to rather become uncertain and tensed. The waiting span was an extremely critical trestle given the vulnerability of every effort going in vain in the light of armed faction’s fury.
As confidence building measure, bread, water and a place to offer their prayers were provided to the armed factions by the Pakistani Forces, but the robust posture did not diminish at any moment.
After the tribal elders from Zaghawa reached the team site, nomads once again tried to make an attempt of using their armed faction, abandoning the negotiations. None of their reactions by now were unpredictable, the CO of the Pakistani Battalion maintained his composure and highlighted the importance of keeping peace in the region and its implications for both tribes. A rather tactical measure was taken as recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an considering both the rivals were Muslims. A religious ambiance made sure none of the parties raised objections out of agitation and fury. The CO expressed himself unequivocally that either they had to find a peaceful way or fight the Peacekeeping Forces.
Continuous hours of discussion took place under reassurances of the Pakistani Battalion, and the dispute was resolved in the light of terms such as that the tribal elders of both tribes would ensure peace in the area and prevent crossing over of animals into each other’s area. A bounty money was decided between the two tribes and the barricade of armed factions around Labado was removed immediately. For the first time in the history of peacekeeping missions by UN, the sight of resolving matters on table instead of ground was witnessed as never done before at UNAMID (United Nations – Africa Mission in Darfur) to reach a peaceful end. The untiring efforts and resolute persistence to materialise the slogan of ‘Peacekeeping’ exhibited by the Pakistani soldiers proved their mettle and the sons of our soil once again became the nation’s pride. They not only won the hearts and confidence of the warring factions and UNAMID leadership but also the Government of Sudan. The prevention of a genocide, unprecedented in the history of peacekeeping operations while re-establishing the credibility of United Nations Peacekeeping and setting true standards of robust peacekeeping was highly admired by the Force Commander UNAMID, Sector Commander and the tribal elders from warring factions in their own way as:
“We have always witnessed UNAMID personnel just holding their diaries, noting down our casualties in every untoward incident, but this time we are astonished, we salute and thank, not only Pakistani Battalion but the complete Pakistani Nation for saving our lives, belongings and bringing peace to the region after a long time. For the first time Pakistani soldiers have established our confidence in UNAMID. We declare them as our HEROES. We thank them all”.
Brigadier IN Ijioma, the UNAMID Commander Sector South in his report to UNAMID Force Headquarters for commending the achievements of Pakistani Battalion stated: “Dissuasion of the deployed militia from carrying out their intention was mainly because they saw the resolve of Pakistani Battalion and knew that the cost of attacking the Internal Displaced People’s Camp would be very high on them. This success should be celebrated by all, and all those who made it possible, Pakistani Battalion need to be commended. We should not always be harping on failures, successes are also worthy of note. The pro-activeness, aggressive posture and robustness that went into averting the ugly incident deserves high level commendation. It is a major landmark achievement which the military component should be proud of and I believe that New York needs to be apprised of this.”
UNAMID Force Commander Lt Gen Paul Mella while addressing the troops during his special visit to 25 Baloch Regiment stated: “Today I am very proud of claiming a victory of highly professional soldiers from Pakistani Battalion. Pakistani Battalion’s act of valour has stamped a label of peace in the region. The account of this act by Pakistani Battalion be circulated to all units, to be studied as a case study for the lessons it holds for the UNAMID military component. We are well aware of the high standards and professionalism of Pakistan Army and Pakistani Battalion proved it on the soil of Darfur. I have already apprised United Nations Headquarters about the outstanding performance of Pakistani Battalion.”
Pakistani soldiers did what remains unparalleled in the UN Peacekeeping history. The message to the world was clear; peacekeeping missions by the Pakistan Armed Forces are very well comprehended as ‘peace’ keeping ones. The objective to save innocent lives and to win the hearts of commons is the top-drawer priority ranked above the demonstration of martial dominance contrary to what the world otherwise is engaged in.