Keeping peace comes naturally to Pakistan
Peace within the country and on the outside is the cardinal principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy — as prescribed by its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
That Pakistan should be the oldest and largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping forces, therefore, comes as no surprise. Pakistan has thus far contributed troops to 46 peacekeeping missions in 28 countries. As of today, 5,400 Pakistani peacekeepers are stationed in eight African countries, and in Cyprus, with soldiers having served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, New Guinea, Namibia, Haiti, Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia to name a few.
The UN's peacekeepers help create conditions for durable and lasting peace in countries torn by conflict, with its earliest missions sent to Palestine and Kashmir in 1948. The UN has prescribed three conditions for sending such missions — firstly, the parties involved in the conflict should be agreeable to receiving the mission; secondly, a ceasefire should be in place; and thirdly, all foreign soldiers wearing blue UN helmets will be allowed to open fire if attacked.
The political and moral strength of the peacekeepers lies in the fact that they enjoy international legitimacy and are sent to conflict zones to share the responsibility of creating conditions that are congenial to lasting peace, mostly by collaborating with the local authorities.
It should be noted that the drafting and conclusion of the final peace agreement is not the only mandate which is given to the peacekeepers. They stop after creating a suitable environment for peace.
Peacekeeping contingents can be a mix of army soldiers and police from various countries. Additionally, international troops become homogeneous after wearing blue helmets in order to pursue their assigned objectives and invariably coordinate with the local authorities to achieve the assigned goals. Currently, there are 14 peacekeeping missions that are functional in four continents.
In 1988, the UN's peacekeeping force was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and lauded as follows: "The peacekeeping forces of the United Nations have, under extremely difficult conditions, contributed to reducing tensions where an armistice has been negotiated but a peace treaty has yet to be established.”
More than 6,000 Pakistani officers and troops were part of the UN peacekeeping assignments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfour, Haiti, Liberia, Western Sahara, Central African Republic, and Cyprus, in October last year.
As many as 156 Pakistanis in uniform, including 23 officers, have sacrificed their lives while on duty abroad. Therefore, Pakistan’s contribution to international peace and stability has been very impressive, something which was acknowledged by the UN Under Secretary General who visited Pakistan last year.
The UN's missions not only give Pakistani soldiers international exposure, but also involve them in projects where Pakistan plays the role of a peace-loving nation.
Apart from regular peacekeeping activities, the troops also take part in reconstruction efforts in areas devastated by conflict.
They have built schools and provided medical care to colleagues. Sierra Leone’s Military Advisor, Colonel Albert Jusu — during a meeting with a Pakistani contingent — had once said: "We have left Pakistani flags on the schools that you guys built so that we always remember how Pakistan helped us rebuild our country."
In another instance, Major General Salihu Zaway Uba, the UNMIL Commander confirmed to the UN Security Council that the "Pakistani medical unit has been providing medical level- 2 services to all UN personnel and ensuring their stable health."
Pakistan’s track record with the UN peacekeeping forces goes back to more than five decades, with Congo being one of its longest missions till date.
As of today, there are more than 3,000 Pakistani peacekeepers in Congo. In 2007, the current Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was in charge of a peacekeeping brigade in Congo. There, he worked under Major General Vikram Singh who later became India's army chief. General Singh assessed Brigadier Bajwa’s performance as “professional and outstanding”. This demonstrates that both India and Pakistan send only their best officers on missions to essay the role of peacekeepers.
Additionally, the UN Under Secretary General has always appreciated the sacrifices made by Pakistani troops in the line of duty. During a meeting with Pakistan's army chief, he said: "We would also like to extend our thanks and gratitude to all Pakistani peacekeepers currently serving in our missions as well as their families. All of them are paying a price for that and we are extremely grateful. Pakistan's army and it's armed forces' contribution to our mission is really making a difference and we think it is an outstanding contribution to the cause of peace."
Pakistan's armed forces are not only trained to defend the nation in times of war, but are encouraged to promote peace, too. During natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods in Pakistan, the defence forces have always been on the frontline — be it in terms of providing relief goods to the affected people or by rescuing several others. They have maintained the same tradition and spirit abroad.