Pakistan’s role in UN peacekeeping missions is a soft power bank

Pakistan’s role in UN peacekeeping missions is a soft power bank


A principle, powerful actor dominating the political history of Pakistan has been its army. Theoretically, the military remains an essentially apolitical arm of any government. But owing to Pakistan’s chequered political developments since independence and its geographical situation in a hostile neighborhood, the armed forces have acquired a rather politicized hue and color. 
As narratives of politics and security have dominated the debate vis-à-vis Pakistan’s military on the national and international scale, activities not fitting into any of these categories have rarely received attention. One such engagement on the part of Pakistan’s military remains its contributions toward United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Pakistan has actively participated in UN endeavors to establish peace in conflict zones since the 60’s with the first deployment of its peacekeeping troops in the Congo to provide logistics support for the movement of UN troops. Afterwards, Pakistan sent its troops in aid of various UN peacekeeping missions around the world.
Pakistani military and police personnel have taken up a plethora of roles in these UN missions ranging from acting as an operational force tasked with securing and establishing law and order in Somalia, New Guinea, Bosnia and Sudan, and assisting UN officials in power transitions particularly in Namibia, Cambodia and Sierra Leone. Pakistani forces have also been deployed as UN observers in Yemen, Kuwait, Rwanda and Prevlaka.

Pakistan has also been diversifying the nature of its peacekeeping force and making it more inclusive.

Umer Karim

In 2018, Pakistani peacekeepers constituted the world’s fifth-largest contingent with more than 6,000 military and police force officials. Pakistani troops are currently deployed in the Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan’s Darfur region. 
In these three regions, Pakistani troops are involved in establishing and enforcing protocols to protect civilians while on the other hand, also facilitating political processes and delivering humanitarian aid. 
The diversity of these roles under the UN mandate further illustrates the complicated and sensitive nature of these operations, as armed forces personnel are not only expected to take up civilian governance responsibilities in coordination with relevant UN bodies, but also to simultaneously establish a semblance of law and order while not indulging in kinetic operations. Fulfilling these tasks requires intensive planning and organization work alongside intelligence gathering and rapport building with the local population.
Establishing and securing peace comes at a high price. Since its inclusion in the UN peacekeeping missions, Pakistan has sent more than 200,000 peacekeepers to 46 UN missions. During these missions, around 156 of these peacekeepers including 24 officers and one female personnel have lost their lives.
The most marked example in this regard was the case of Somalia where 24 Pakistani peacekeepers lost their lives in an ambush by the militiamen of General Farah Aidid in Mogadishu in June 1993. Despite this, Pakistan didn’t back off and its troops remained in Somalia, leaving only after the conclusion of the mission in 1995. On the other hand, the Americans withdrew immediately after the downing of a black-hawk helicopter attempting a raid on Olympia Hotel.
It is a near war-like environment out there, ripe with uncertainties that these peacekeepers negotiate and adapt to on a daily basis.
And so it is imperative that peacekeeping personnel be better equipped for what they are about to face. Keeping in view these practical challenges, some attempts have been made to help military and police officials during their postings. An academic department at the Centre for International Peace and Stability deals specifically with imparting UN peacekeeping expertise and has charted out a curriculum dealing with all the basic roles and responsibilities that can be delegated to a peacekeeper.
Pakistan has also been diversifying the nature of its peacekeeping force and making it more inclusive. In accordance with UN guidelines, and to enhance the participation of women in UN peacekeeping missions, 15% of Pakistan’s peacekeeping missions are made up of female military and staff officials.
Recently, Pakistan deployed a female infantry engagement team of its army in the Congo. People in relevant policy circles are now realizing that the deployment of women officials is crucial and effective in addressing the problems faced by the women of the region.
The dedicated service of these troopers has not only won them laurels, but has also been valuable in enhancing Pakistan’s image and soft power to the extent that UN peacekeeping missions are considered synonymous with Pakistani troops. 
The only thing missing now, is a comprehensive strategy to build upon this soft power reserve and use it to project Pakistan’s contribution toward world peace and stability.
– Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, the conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.

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