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.
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).
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.
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.