In Focus

Pakistan’s Participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations – A Professionally Rewarding Experience

UN Peacekeeping Operations provide a unique and social learning experience to the troops. Pakistan is one of the largest troops contributors for UN peacekeeping forces and also has a state-of-the-art training facility, Centre for International Peace and Stability at NUST.

The United Nations Organisation (UNO) was created in the aftermath of the Second World War to save the future generations from the scourge of war. Whether it has been able to do so or not is a subject for intense debate, but the fact is that it continues to operate as a world body and member states still continue to attend its sessions and the world leaders gather there every September to give their vision of a peaceful world. The UN considers it important to give diplomacy a chance as the primary tool to prevent conflict from occurring and escalating. It was also considered useful to use other peaceful means such as negotiations, mediations and arbitration to resolve conflict.
To begin with it was not the intention of the UN to intervene militarily. But soon it was quite clear that preventive diplomacy could not always prevent conflicts and peace negotiations did not always bear results acceptable to all parties to the conflict. It was felt necessary that to stop bloodshed and to keep the belligerents apart, there had to be some kind of international military or police presence in the conflict zones. This was the primary reason for resorting to peacekeeping operations. 
Peacekeeping operations were premised on three cardinal principles: A. Consent of parties; B. Impartiality; and C. Use of force only in self defense. The military observers that were deployed in Palestine and disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir were unarmed observers. Their job was and is to report ceasefire violations. They did not have the mandate to hold anyone accountable or to prevent anyone from doing so. 
With time, the UN peacekeeping operations have become more robust and now involve active intervention by military forces. The first fully equipped military force to be deployed in large numbers in a conflict zone was the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Suez Canal Area in 1956. Since the UN does not have a standing army, the troop contributions were made by member states. Eleven nations contributed troops for UNEF. This has been the norm for peacekeeping operations. Soldiers wear their own army’s uniform but don the blue beret or helmet to signify that they are serving the UN. This provides the member states a certain international visibility in military operations for peaceful purposes. 
The first time Pakistan was asked to provide troops for UN operations was in Congo in the 1960. The pioneering batch of peacekeepers from Pakistan were logistics troops (Army Service Corps and Ordnance). Since then Pakistan has sent over 219,000 soldiers (both men and women, combatants as well as Headquarters and support staff) on 46 missions in conflict zones across the world. 168 of them have laid down their lives while serving humanity. Those who have sacrificed their lives on UN duty have been posthumously awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld medal (instituted in the memory of the second Secretary-General, who died in a plane crash while negotiating peace for the conflict in Congo in 1961). All those who have served on UN missions are awarded campaign medals in acknowledgement of their services.
Pakistani peacekeepers have served in various regions of the world including Africa, Asia, Europe and America and have operated with many armies and commanders and staffs of various nations. The UN missions have given them the opportunity to operate together with with a number of armies, including Indian Army, which under normal circumstances is considered an adversary. 
Pakistan has been the leading troop contributing country among the member states for the past few decades. For some time, it was the largest troop contributor in the world. As of today, it is the sixth largest troop contributor and despite its own security requirements, has deployed approximately 4,500 peacekeepers on eight missions. 
Pakistan has also provided political and military leadership to UN missions. These positions have included that of the Military Advisor to the Secretary-General (Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed), Force Commanders (Lieutenant Generals Sajjad Akram and Sikandar Afzal, Major Generals Iqbal Asi, Tayyab Azam, Hafiz Masroor, Muhammad Khalid, and Zia Ur Rehman); and Chief Military Observers (Lieutenant Generals Imtiaz Shaheen, Tariq Waseem Ghazi and Syed Athar Ali, Major Generals Sikander Shami, Anis Ahmad Bajwa, Niaz Muhmmad Khan Khattak and Muhammad Tahir). 
Some of our top diplomats have also served as the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs) in mission areas. Prominent among these have been Ambassadors Jamshed Marker, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, Iqbal Riza, Ashraf Jahangir Qazi and Shahryar Khan. 
UN Peacekeeping is considered to be an important tenet of our foreign policy. It allows the nation to display its credentials as a member state committed to the cause of international peace and one that does not shirk the responsibility that the UN assigns it. It also provides an opportunity to showcase a professionally well trained army that can successfully undertake complex missions in dangerous circumstances. 
To ensure that the peacekeepers understand the nuances and finer aspects of peacekeeping, the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Islamabad, provides pre-departure training to prospective peacekeepers. This Centre has the unique honor of having being visited by two UN Secretary-Generals, i.e., Ban Ki-moon and António Guterres. The first one inaugurated it in 2013 and the second one declared it as the regional hub of excellence for peacekeeping. The Centre not only provides training to its own officers and men but also those from the friendly countries. 
At the individual level, peacekeeping duties provide a soldier good international exposure. A random survey carried out from a representative sample of officers and men of 7FF that has just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from their peacekeeping duties has yielded interesting insights. 
7FF has been deployed on the peacekeeping mission in Somalia in the early 1990s, and it is quite possible that the young soldiers might have heard stories from their fathers or uncles about their peacekeeping experiences in the horn of Africa; the mission in DRC was quite an eye opener for this new crop of peacekeepers, for e.g., it provided the 21st century peacekeeper and some of his comrades a first time opportunity to travel abroad. Introduction to international travel was a life-changing experience in itself. 
Working in a conflict zone far away from the home is a novel affair and needs adjusting to. To be operating far away from family and friends and when home is really far-off and not just a weekend or a few hours bus journey away, can be extremely lonesome. Working in an alien culture and a different way of life can be quite surreal and challenging. Although our soldiers have been involved in counter-insurgency operations for over two decades and are familiar in engaging shadowy figures, who do not wear any distinguishing uniforms and can conveniently escape by merging into the crowd after carrying out bombing or firing, yet it is an eerie feeling, when the foe is completely unknown. 
Despite the hazards and challenges, the peacekeepers found it to be a professionally rewarding experience to participate in peacekeeping operations. Most were of the opinion that it provides new insights in fighting a war in different operational zones and environments. Many of them thought that the peacekeeping experience had improved their professional outlook on how modern armies operate and how they can improve their own drills and procedures.
The Government of Pakistan understands that peacekeeping provides it the means to project its soft image abroad and that’s why it is willing to send its soldiers on peacekeeping duties despite heavy security commitments at home. Pakistan Army on its part strives to improve its international profile by constantly monitoring the trends and requirements of international peacekeeping. Keeping in view the prerequisite of maintaining gender balance in peacekeeping duties, Pakistan Army has introduced Female Engagement Teams (FETs). Women had been a part of the peacekeeping operations for a long time, but it has mostly been in the area of medical support as doctors and nurses. Now Pakistani women also find an opportunity to serve as military observers, staff officers, communication officers, lawyers and engineers on peacekeeping missions. The women of the FETs have found good response from the women and other vulnerable segments of the society, such as children and old people, who trust them and turn to them for help. 
Pakistani peacekeeping experience has been a professionally rewarding experience and it has helped improve the image of the country.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and PhD. Presently he is the Associate Dean and founding member of Centre of International Peace & Stability (CIPS) at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), Islamabad. He was also Honorary Colonel of the Battalion, 7FF Regiment.
E-mail: [email protected], [email protected]

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