United Nations

Pakistani Blue Berets: The Need for Prudent Engagements

Pakistan has been serving as a UN peacekeeping force in DRC for the past 62 years. Despite such a long military presence and tremendous contributions, Pakistan’s diplomatic and economic footprints are negligible. 

The developed and developing countries have always been accruing dividends of their military diplomacy. More precisely, in many instances the military diplomacy has remained foundational to contribute to national prestige among the comity of nations, strengthen bilateral relations, foster international commitments and open avenues for civil economic investments. Besides our bilateral military forums and working groups, Pakistan Army has been a leading participant of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions across the globe. It has a significant participation in 43 UN peacekeeping missions including some of the most challenging ones. Pakistan’s journey with UN peacekeeping operations started in 1960 with its first ever deployment in the UN operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In a long history of 62 years serving with UN peacekeeping, Pakistan stands proud as one of the largest contributors of UN peacekeeping forces. So far, 164 Pakistani peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives, including 26 officers, in the noble cause of helping humanity, building peace and bringing stability across the regions. Almost an equal number of Pakistani peacekeepers have been wounded while promoting and advancing the noble cause of international peace.

So far, 164 Pakistani peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives, including 26 officers in the noble cause of helping humanity, building peace and bringing stability across the regions.

Pakistan’s commitment to the UN for promoting international peace and prosperity stems from the vision of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah:
“Our foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We believe in the principle of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings and are prepared to make our utmost contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world. Pakistan will never be found lacking in extending its material and moral support to the oppressed and suppressed people of the world and in upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter."
(Broadcast message to the people of USA, February 1948) 
DRC UN peacekeeping mission is the longest running mission. It has transitioned from ONUC (Operation des Nations Unies au Congo) in 1960-1964 to MONUC (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo) in 1999-2010, and currently functioning as MONUSCO (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo)
After more than five decades of Belgian rule, on June 30, 1960, Congo gained independence and was officially named as Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Soon after independence, the country receded into a political turmoil when Prime Minister Lumumba was assassinated in January 1961. DRC faced the worst kind of power struggles amongst numerous groups that had emerged throughout the country. On August 6, 1999, Security Council passed Resolution 1258 and authorized deployment of MONUC with its headquarters in Kinshasa. In September 2003, Pakistan Army contributed one infantry battalion which was deployed in DRC under Ituri Brigade. Later, Pakistan contributed three infantry battalions under South Kivu Brigade at Bukavu. Units under MONUC imparted military training to newly recruited troops of Congolese Army and ensured comprehensive security arrangements in Bukavu during the first ever general elections in DRC.
On July 1, 2010, MONUC transformed into MONUSCO as a stabilization mission. Pakistan Army contributed a Sector Headquarter, four Infantry Battalions and one Aviation Flight to the mission. Pakistani peacekeepers under MONUSCO have undertaken Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration (DDRRR) tasks and surrender of armed groups like Mai Mai, Yakatumba and others, protection of civilians, establishment of free medical camps, and numerous social tasks to help the poor and needy. In the current mission structure, there is a Pakistani Sector Headquarter, three Infantry Battalions (two Pakistani, one Indonesian), two Aviation Flights (Pakistani and Uruguayan), Chinese Engineers Company and a Level II Hospital deployed in South Kivu DRC, out of which one Infantry Battalion operates as Rapid Deployable Battalion (RDB). While complying with the requirements of UN mandate, Pakistani blue berets have conducted numerous joint and unilateral operations to stabilize the security situation in the area of responsibility with a proactive approach against proxy groups. The important achievements include: 1) Successful deployment of more than fifteen Company Operating Bases, Temporary Operating Bases and Standing Combat deployments; 2) Riverine operations to effectively check movement of hostile elements in Lake Tanganyika and Kivu; 3) Capacity building and logistic support to Congolese Army named FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo); 4) Air support operations to ensure smooth and timely deployment of Static Combat Deployments in the complete area of responsibility; 5) Prevention of human rights violations/criminal acts through a proactive approach and sensitization of population; 6) Management of internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps and Burundian refugees; 7) Relief escorts after natural calamities; 8) Harmonizing warring tribes with initiatives of peace through sports; 9) Miscellaneous Quick Impact Projects/civil military coordination operations, winning hearts and minds activities and child protection activities, especially by Female Engagement Teams (FETs) in direct coordination with MONUSCO and Head of Office. The active participation of Pakistani female blue berets has been appreciated in active missions at all levels.
“Pakistan is a leader in championing women peacekeepers and an example for other troop contributors, António Guterres, said on February 11, 2021.
While serving in DRC peacekeeping mission, many Pakistani officers and soldiers have sacrificed their lives to uphold UN mandate and prestige of Pakistan. On March 29, 2022, Pakistan aviation unit’s Puma helicopter crashed while undertaking a reconnaissance mission in Rutshuru region of North Kivu province DRC, with eight individuals aboard (six Pakistanis, one Russian, one Serbian) laid their lives for the noble cause. The Pakistani peacekeepers included three officers (Lt Col Asif Ali Awan – pilot, Maj Saad Nomani – co-pilot, Maj Faizan Ali – Flight Engineer) and three soldiers (Naib Subedar Samiullah Khan – Flight Engineer, Havildar Muhammad Ismail – Crew Chief and Lance Havildar Muhamad Jamil – Gunner). On this tragic demise of brave sons, UN Secretary-General, Pakistan’s Premier and MONUSCO Force Commander endorsed their heartfelt comments:
“I’m deeply saddened by the death of 8 UN peacekeepers who were on board a helicopter that crashed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I wish to express my sincere condolences to their families & loved ones”.

–António Guterres, March 30, 2022

“I express deep sense of shock and grief and pay tribute to the global peace efforts by the country’s armed forces”.

–Prime Minister Imran Khan, March 30, 2022

On March 29, 2022, repeating the commitments, Pakistan aviation unit’s Puma helicopter crashed while undertaking a reconnaissance mission in Rutshuru region of North Kivu province DRC, with eight individuals aboard (six Pakistanis, one Russian, one Serbian) laid their lives for the noble cause.

“Today I have come to Pakistan aviation unit to pay my personal tribute as a soldier and Force Commander of MONUSCO for the ultimate sacrifice of the six officers (Lt Col Asif, Maj Saad, Maj Faizan, N/Sub Sami, Ismail and Jameel) that during a combat mission in DRC that had their helicopter shot down by enemy’s armed groups. Their professionalism and commitment will be reminded in the force and the UN force as a lesson. Their example has honored the UN, Pakistan and all the armed forces. They lost their lives in the service of peace and in the service of their honorable country. Rest in peace. They are heroes and martyrs”.

–Force Commander MONUSCO, Lt Gen Marcos A. Da COSTA, April 6, 2022

With all these sacrifices and large presence of Pakistani contingent in DRC, the question arises that, alongside national prestige and honor, whether we as a nation, are translating it into Pak-DRC bilateral diplomatic, economic and socio-political dividends. On January 13, 2022, Chief of Army DRC called on Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and discussed matters of mutual interest, regional security situation and scope of military cooperation, including defense, training and security between the two countries.
DRC holds greater economic significance. It is three times the size of Pakistan with 90 million population inhabiting 26 provinces. DRC, located strategically in Central Africa, promotes the expansion of its market to nine neighboring countries (Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and Republic of the Congo) with about 250 million potential consumers. The country is active in the regional cooperation organizations such as ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States), COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) and SADC (Southern African Development Community). Moreover, its rich endowment of natural resources, large population and strategic location makes it a potentially rewarding market across the world. With basic infrastructure currently undergoing total rehabilitation and modernization throughout the country; a thriving economy, abundant skilled and cheap labor, and reassuring political environment, the DRC offers attractive business. Its economy is largely reliant on commodity prices, particularly the revenues from copper, cobalt, tin, tungsten, and tantalum. It also bears huge reservoirs of gold and diamond being capitalized by international markets, especially U.S., China, United Arab Emirates and other countries. Alongside mining, other markets like oil and gas, forest industry, electrical machinery, automobiles, food, banking and telecom, infrastructure rehabilitation/reconstruction, pharmaceuticals, microfinance and agricultural equipment are also potential areas in DRC. 
DRC has three main economic hubs centered on large population centers with significant commercial or industrial bases.  
Kinshasa and Kongo Central Provinces. Kinshasa is DRC’s most populous city and its political and economic capital. It is a vibrant economic hub; most foreign companies operating in the DRC maintain a presence in Kinshasa and Congolese businesses tend to have their corporate headquarters in the city. Kinshasa is the third largest city on the African continent, with an estimated population of over 5.5 million inhabitants in the city and 12 million in its urban agglomeration. Kongo Central is the only province in the DRC with direct access to the sea. Matadi, approximately 273 kms southeast of Kinshasa, is the capital and largest city in the province, and is home to the principal seaport. A meter gauge portage railway and a paved two-lane road connects Kinshasa and Matadi. Though the Congo River flows between Kinshasa and Matadi, the stretch connecting the two is unnavigable.
Haut-Katanga and Lualaba Provinces. 
These two provinces form the southern economic hub comprising the southern half of the former Katanga province bordering Angola and Zambia. Lubumbashi, the DRC’s second largest city, is located near one of the world’s largest copper deposits. Today, the region is home to numerous domestic and internationally owned mines. Unlike Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and a number of other key cities in the Lualaba and Haut-Katanga provinces are connected to the southern African rail network.
North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Bas-Uele, Haut-Uele, and Tshopo Provinces. 
This area of economic activity – from the cities of Bukavu and Goma on the Rwandan border, to the river port city of Kisangani to the west, and the gold mines in Bas-Uele and Ituri, – forms the third economic hub of the country. The area faces chronic instability due to the continuing low-intensity conflict between various armed factions fighting the DRC government and each other. Despite difficult conditions, the region is home to a number of industrial and artisanal mines extracting cobalt, gold, and diamonds, as well as a rich agricultural sector with export potential.

Except for military to military engagement, there has been a menial to negligible civil political venturing for Pak-DRC bilateral relations for economic, trade and other associated purposes. 

Inspite of poor economic profile and security challenges, different companies hailing from countries like the U.S., UK, China, India, Belgium, France, Canada, DRC neighbors and many others are pursuing their business interests in one way or the other, i.e., by exploiting raw minerals, cocoa beans, and infrastructure developments. The accession of Felix Tshisekedi as President in 2019 with first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history has lifted the confidence for doing business in DRC. Under the Democratic Republic Ministry of Planning, National Investment Promotion Agency (ANAPI; Agence Nationale pour la Promotion des Investissements) remains the point of contact and focus. Government of DRC has demonstrated a growing commitment to foster sound economic governance and to attract Foreign Direct Investment and it is thriving to gradually pace up. In the ambit of GoDRC policies, ANAPI is trying to provide services in primary, secondary and tertiary economic sectors for the sake of monitoring, maintenance and partnership with investors. Moreover, a mechanism has been instituted in ANAPI to guide investors to set up their companies with the One-stop Shop of incorporation and to fulfil other complementary formalities. The GoDRC has set up a “Competitiveness and Private Sector Development Project” since 2014, which has reduced business start-up time by half and the number of taxes by three-quarters. In essence, this country of religious mix (majority Christians) having majority Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo and French dialects offers enormous opportunities for trade and commerce.  
While Pakistan is one of the world’s most populous countries, 24th largest economy, 6th largest military and, one of the largest troops contributing countries for UN missions, it falls in the list of countries having the lowest bilateral economic engagements with DRC. Overall, African continent is one such destination which has Pakistan’s meager (almost negligible) economic footprint. Contrarily India and China have their functioning embassies since 1970 and 1950s respectively. They also hold a big number of foreign expats in most of the main cities of DRC, i.e., Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Kisangani, Goma, Bunia, Bukavu, Kaleimi, Kolwezi and Butembo. They are pursuing their businesses in almost all the provinces of DRC. As per the statistics of 2020, China and India’s export overlays remained USD 1.69 billion and USD 315.23 million respectively. 

Alongside mining, other markets like oil and gas, forest industry, electrical machinery, automobiles, food, banking and telecom, infrastructure rehabilitation/reconstruction, pharmaceuticals, microfinance and agricultural equipment are also potential areas in DRC.

Despite contributing a large number of troops for UN peacekeeping force for more than twenty-five years and rendering sacrifices, Pakistan has not been able to capitalize the foundational base provided by persistent presence of military. Contrarily, China and India and some other countries have been able to judiciously exploit the opportunities offered by their militaries.   
However, it’s not too late to sail upon foundations laid by our military diplomacy channels. We should commence our bilateral engagement. 
Pakistan has great potential to provide skilled managers in farming, construction industry, hides management, sugar industry and business cooperation such as medical instruments, sports gears, eateries/commodities and military to military collaborations.
While Pakistan fulfills its global responsibility of providing support for peace efforts militarily, socioeconomic development is a major factor for peace and prosperity of a region as well. In order to provide non-military contributions for peace and prosperity of DRC, civil engagements are a requisite for comprehensive peace in DRC. Trade and investment would not only deepen the ties between the two countries, but would also complement peace efforts of the military component.


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