By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

Pakistan has an enviable record of contribution towards global security, peace and stability under the auspices of United Nations. Since 1960, Pakistan has been actively involved in most of the UN peacekeeping missions and today stands at the top with 10,175 troops and observers serving the ongoing missions. So far Pakistan has participated in 41 UN peacekeeping missions in some of the most dangerous conflict zones like Congo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, Cambodia, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Liberia; where our soldiers helped in restoration of peace as well as toward provision of humanitarian assistance including medical cover to the needy. Pakistan has made the largest troop contribution to UN peace initiatives and has so for deployed 130,000 peacekeepers from Far East Asia to Central America.

As a signatory of Memorandum of Understanding, of 1996, on UN Standby Arrangement System, Pakistan has pledged a Brigade Group size force, including air force and navy assets for UN peacekeeping missions. Hopefully, Pakistan would now also participate in high profile missions involving enforcement of no fly zones, naval blockades etc.

Performance of Pakistani peace keepers have been acknowledged worldwide by numerous leaders of affected zones as well as by the UN leadership. An undisputed professional standing of Pakistani peace keepers has made them the passion of every Special Representative of the UNSG and Force Commander in every UN peace keeping mission.

Pakistani peace keepers have persistently sacrificed their lives in the line of duty; fatalities of Pakistani peace keepers account for over 10% of total UN deaths; almost an equal number of Pakistan peace keepers have been wounded over the five decades. Tragically, 122 Pakistani military, police and civilian personnel lost their lives while serving the United Nations.

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These peacekeeping missions expose our troops to attacks from warring militant groups, hostile social environment, adverse weather conditions and health hazards. Many in Pakistan vividly recall the tragic episode that occurred in Somalia during 1993. Five groups of Pakistani peacekeepers were attacked by the militants belonging to warlord Muhammad Farrah Aidid’s militia. Attackers used women and children as shield. Pakistani troops fought back courageously and ensured that women and children remained unharmed. During this episode, 23 Pakistani soldiers lost their lives, while 56 sustained injuries.

Peacekeeping is envisaged as a non-coercive and a politically impartial instrument. Traditionally it has been based on a triad of principles viz. consent of parties to the conflict, impartiality of the peacekeepers, and use of force by lightly armed peacekeepers only in self-defence. In the past, constraints imposed by these principles have led to abandoning some of the missions, leaving the suffering civilian population in a state of limbo.

Genesis of the ‘Peacekeeping Mission’ is rooted in the contradiction between the rejection of war and the need to keep peace by force. The  UN  Charter,  which  is  based  on  the  idea  of preventing  war,  does  not  envisage  peacekeeping. Yet this method of crisis management has evolved out of the fear of a war breaking out.  Dag Hammarskjöld and Lester B.  Pearson “invented” peacekeeping in 1956.

Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter provide for political and military procedures for resolving conflicts. The idea was relatively simple: establish a means  for  dialogue  (Chapter  VI)  and,  if  the situation  becomes  a  threat  to  international  peace, take military action (Chapter VII). 

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Early day missions were timid, involving only military observers. Then it became clear that they had to be protected and that it would be useful if forces were interposed between the parties to a conflict. At  first,  attempts were made  to  resolve the  problems of protection of peace keepers with allocation of additional  resources like  increasing  the manpower and firepower  in  the  field for  protecting  the units  more effectively.  But as difficulties persisted, it slowly became clear that there was a doctrinal gap.

First stage of peacekeeping lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Its  success depended  on  the  assumption  that  the  belligerents would  respect  their  commitments;   and  that  they  could more or  less  control their forces. This remained the case as long as the conflicts involved national armies. 

However, from 1990 onward, the disintegration of some states undermined an essential condition of peacekeeping:  the consistency and effectiveness of the commitments made by the parties to a conflict. In  the confusion of  a  civil war,  the  commitment of non-state  actors  to  a  peace  agreement  can  never  be assumed; consent becomes a  relative and evolving concept.  Consent could be ambiguous, and it could be withdrawn arbitrarily. Hence, security of peace keepers continues to remain on tenterhooks.  

There ought to be a balance between mission accomplishment and survival. This must be imbedded in the design of each mission, from conception through execution, to safe extrication.  When the safety of peace keepers is threatened, peacekeeping  is  likely  to  go  beyond  an exclusively  defensive  posture;  such situations must cater for limited and local offensive actions, with the proviso that they are not diverted towards perpetual coercive ends. Protection of observers and peacekeeping troops requires situation based application of force and means to do so should be readily available to each field commander. These  lessons  have been learnt  at  the  cost  of  deplorable  humanitarian failures  that made  people  doubt  the  relevance  of UN peacekeeping capability in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda etc.

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Today, peacekeeping has weaknesses at every level of its implementation. The  root  cause  of  all  of  these  weaknesses  is physical  vulnerability  at  the  tactical  level.  It  has become worse  as  states  have  become weaker  and thus  less  able  to  guarantee  their  consent.  Moreover, intra-state conflicts are requiring more and more peacekeepers as compared to inter-state conflicts.

Notwithstanding the evolution of post cold war era constraints, peacekeeping  will  always  be  a matter  of  consent  rather  than  compulsion,  however robustness of force and structures would  increase  the  ability  to  control  the  area  of operations where a crisis is taking place, while at the same time protecting those  who  are  executing the peace mission.

UN needs to devote a great deal of effort to evolve a viable doctrine for its peace keeping activities to increase the coherence in conception and conduct of these operations. The envisaged doctrine should aim at improving the military components’ ability to control the situation through agility and rapid mobility.  The  UN  should also find procedural ways and means to  compensate  for  the  inherent structural weaknesses  of  its  force composition viz,  their  extremely diverse  multinational  nature, inter-operability issues, difficulties of command articulation etc.