THE COMMITMENT TO BRING PEACE TO THE WORLD
S M ASADUL HAQUE
The achievements of the UN’s peacekeeping operations (UN PKO) should be credited to both the military forces and police service. UN PKO, is defined as “an instrument for peace and security by three mutually reinforcing core principles; Consent of the parties, Impartiality, and Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.” The journey of the UN PKO began in 1948 when the Security Council authorised the deployment of UN military observers to the Middle East. The mission’s role was to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours, known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO).
Since then, so far around 67 peacekeeping operations have been conducted by the UN; around 54 of them were conducted since 1988. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel, UN police, and other civilians from more than 121 countries have participated in UN PKO. So far, around 3,372 UN Peacekeepers of the world have died while serving under the UN flag.
Bangladesh Armed Forces with 15 officers walked under the “Blue Umbrella” in August 1988 with United Nations Iran–Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG). Since then, Bangladesh has regularly participated in around 54 PKO across the globe, contributing approximately 1,35,384 troops. Bangladesh had been the largest troops contributing country (TCC) for around a decade. At present, we are also one of the leading TCCs with approximately 9,464 Peacekeepers deployed in 15 ongoing peace missions in 15 different countries. Besides, now we are in the sixth position on female Peacekeepers’ participation where the major stakeholder is our police service.
After the UNIIMOG, our major deployment was in Cambodia, United Nations Transition Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), in February 1992. We had zero experience in contingent assignment. Thus, it was a mixed feeling of excitement and fear of the unknown in a way which was not at all common to our experience within the boundary of the country.
But, our active service experience in fighting counter insurgency operations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts was really invaluable at that time. It was a big challenge for the first contingent to prove our competency and ability to the other participating nations of the world. After a short time of deployment, the Bangladeshi contingent established their credibility. Since then, Bangladeshi Peacekeepers never had to look back. In the meantime, our naval force, air force, and police service gradually increased their participation in the UN alongside the army. Today, we are one of the most competent Peacekeepers of the world by the UN for any kind of assignments. So far, we were assigned under the UN in many countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Angola, Burundi, Cambodia and Western Sahara, among many others.
Simply, bringing peace and maintaining it remains the key task of Peacekeepers. However, our contingents remain closely and actively involved in many other activities during their tour of duty. These wide range of activities is in the form of disarmament and rehabilitation of rebels in mainstream society, demining vast lands in different countries like Angola, Eritrea, and Kuwait, protecting IDPs in different camps and supporting humanitarian activities for them, assisting in border demarcation and the reconciliation of displaced families for more than 30 years in countries like East Timor. There are also a great deal of civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) activities undertaken by our Peacekeepers like supporting humanitarian work conducted by UNHCR and many NGOs. They are also supporting governments in executing administrative work, re-building schools and medical facilities, building roads and bridges in different countries, and supporting national election in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ivory coast. In addition to all these, Peacekeepers are routinely conducting medical campaigns for the local people – here worth mentioning is fighting the deadly Ebola virus alongside many other nations.
In the process, what have we really achieved? The list of achievements of the Peacekeepers is long and varied. These achievements were possible as the Peacekeepers and the citizens of the country worked together. That’s what bears the testimony that together we can do a lot. Today we are one of the prevalent TCCs of the world, a propitious choice of the UN for any PKO. By now, we have also embarked on the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) at New York. It is a great diplomatic expansion that was primarily possible due to the professional aptitude of the military officers in the field. In different UN PKOs, our army was appointed in various prominent positions, such as commander and deputy commander, chief military observers and chief military liaison officers in mission areas. In South Sudan, our contingent remains a priority choice by the government, when even the UN had to repatriate many contingents by the demand of the same government. This was due to the attitude and professional competency of the contingent that they displayed in the construction work of the war ravaged country to maintain their smooth administration. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, during his recent visit to southern Sudan, applauded Bangladeshi peacekeepers and said, “…My deep admiration and commendation for all the noble work Bangladesh contingents have been making for peace and security of Sudan…”.
The most remarkable achievement happened on December 12, 2002 when President of Sierra Leone, Alhaj Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, announced Bangla as one of the several official languages of the country while inaugurating a 54 km long rebuilt road. This road was reconstructed by the Bangladesh Army. Thereafter, in recognition, Bangla was declared as one of the official languages of the country in honour of the Bangladeshi peacekeeping force stationed there.
The Bangladeshi flag stands tall and proud in 15 countries, telling the story of the courage and professionalism of our Peacekeepers. But this achievement was not without cost. Many sons of the country had to sacrifice heavily to establish the credibility of Bangladesh all around the world. Some of them even died in the process. Those Peacekeepers who are still in service are willing to do the same if necessary to preserve the honour of our country. That’s our commitment to the nation; to bring peace and maintain it anywhere in the world.
The writer is Directing Staff in Defence Services Command and Staff College.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2015