The contribution of Pakistan in the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia, which marks 25 years this year, should be explored and documented, to promote goodwill on behalf of Pakistan and to draw lessons for further sharpening the idea of peacekeeping.
These thoughts came in a remembrance conversation in honour of the sacrifices of the peacemaking soldiers in Somalia from 1993 to 1995. The ceremony organised by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) paid rich tributes to the participation of Pakistan and Italy in the mission.
Participants recalled that much of the public imagination of the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia often evokes western documentaries and movies made on the US’s involvement in that mission, especially in a battle in capital Mogadishu.
While the US has documented its history, no matter how contested, other countries including Pakistan have done little to that end. This despite the critical involvement of Pakistan in that mission: For one, Pakistani soldiers went in the end to rescue the Americans in battle.
The UN mission in Somalia continued in multiple phases, witnessing a range of incidents. PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana recalled that it was “not an ordinary mission”. It was more than mere stationing of the troops, but involved direct combat, including direct involvement of Pakistanis and Italians.
The sacrifices of Pakistanis are worth noting. In June 1993, Pakistani soldiers were attacked by rebels from all sides, in which, a veteran Colonel Waziri recalled, 23 Pakistanis laid down their lives, 52 were wounded, while 17 faced disabilities.
Somali Ambassador Khadija Al-Makhzoomi paid gratitude to the fallen soldiers of Pakistan, saying Pakistan was the first country that sent troops to Somalia. Meanwhile, Italian Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo said the mission itself serves as a great example of Pakistan-Italy relations. When the Pakistani troops were surrounded, the Italian troops had come to know about the situation, rescuing the remaining. A one-minute silence was observed for those who laid down their lives.
The discussion also weighed on such incidents to unpack the peacekeeping concept. General (Retd) Masood Aslam recalled that the context in which the forces were sent to Somalia entailed other missions with fewer rebels in mind; these include Congo, Liberia, among others.
But Somalia was altogether different, with at least 30 factions present there. One Italian participant added that “tribal” dimension in Somalian rebel dynamics was not assessed then. Yet, the peacekeeping forces went, with limited resources.
On ground too, veterans recalled they had never imagined anyone taking arms against them. “We rarely used UN’s blue helmet; we mostly used the blue cap,” one veteran said. And yet the incident occurred.
Sargodha University Vice Chancellor Dr Ishtiaq summarised that while the UN peacekeeping has a proud history, it also had a dark chapter. And lessons should be learnt from it. For one, it was pointed out that peacekeepers were taught about using the “least force.” Gen. (Retd) Aslam said that while the peacemaking mission is a multilateral effort, exercise of force is very much a unilateral exercise. This dichotomy entails a risk of miscommunication, lack of coordination, or confusion over chains of command.
Overall, participants applauded the peacemaking troops, saying they are engaged in dire circumstances, fighting for the values of humanity.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2018.