Home The peacekeepers

The peacekeepers

As India has emerged as a leading country in the international peacekeeping under the UN banner, Indian Army’s role in that cannot be understated. Presently, among 118 Troop Contributor Nations to the United Nations, India is ranked among the third largest and the most reliable. The contribution also includes offer of one brigade of troops to the UN Stand by Arrangements. As of end-2010, the Indian Army has over 7000 of its personnel (nine percent of the total UN peacekeepers in uniform) serving in about seven ongoing UN missions in Asia and Africa. It is willing to consider deploying more if requested. Since 1948, the Indian Army has totally contributed nearly 100,000 of its personnel in 48 peacekeeping missions spreading across four continents – Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Contributions have been in the form of battalion groups, engineers, medical teams, military observers, staff personnel and force commanders. In the process, it has so far lost 139 personnel in 23 missions – highest among troop contributing nations.

The Indian troops are preferred by the UN for various reasons. The Indian Army personnel are known for their professional excellence, discipline, equanimity and restraint in the use of force, familiarity with advanced equipment from developed countries and good communication skills, especially in English. They have rich battle experience in both conventional and sub-conventional warfare. Rotating deployment pattern in geographically diverse India make them easy to adapt themselves to any weather and terrain of the world: deserts, mountains, valleys, plains, marshes and jungles. The Indian Army has demonstrated time-and-again its capability to sustain large contingents in prolonged and high-risk operations. More significantly, collateral damage in the area of responsibility of Indian troops has been less; this is considered as the essential characteristic of peacekeepers.

Multi-tasking come naturally to the Indian troops because of domestic demands and experience. Hence, they dextrously involve themselves in ‘beyond the call of duty’ activities in the host countries like organising medical camps, construction of schools, digging of bore wells, running vocational training programmes for the local youth, managing rehabilitation centres, demining and training of deminers, resettlement of refugees/internally displaced persons (IDPs) and so on. The ultimate objective has always been considered as restoring peace and normalcy in host countries. Most importantly, adherence to the following basic principles of peacekeeping has made the Indian Army in the UN missions clearheaded, non-controversial and popular:

• Exhausting all means for the peaceful settlement of disputes before establishing a peacekeeping operation.
• Strict adherence to the UN Charter, in particular the principles of full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, and non-intervention in their internal affairs.
• Involvement only at the request of the member states and under the command and control of the UN.
• Emphasis that resources for peacekeeping activities should not be at the expanse of resources for development activities of the UN.
• Ending operations that have been overtaken by events or become inconsistent with their mandates.
• Ensuring the distinction between peacekeeping operations and other activities of the UN, including humanitarian assistance.
• Pegging every mission to clear objectives and realistic criteria to end the mission and having an exit strategy.

The Indian Army, in turn, has also gained immensely from these peacekeeping missions in terms of international experience, inter-operability training and doctrines, coordination, data fusion, handling of latest equipment, professional and personal rapport with military personnel belonging to other countries including those from Pakistan, and exposure to various conflict scenarios characterised by different levels of violence. These are expensive and difficult experiences to acquire otherwise.

Apart from numerous peacekeeping operations under the ‘Blue Beret’, the Indian Army has also participated in two operations in its neighbourhood, but purely on bilateral basis. As part of Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, the Indian Army was predominant part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990. In the process of implementing the Accord, the Indian forces lost about 1200 of its personnel. In the second operation in November 1988, the Indian Army, with the able assistance of its sister forces, successfully thwarted a coup attempt in Maldives by a dissident group with the help of mercenaries hired from Sri Lanka. Despite bilateral operations, the Indian troops by-and-large adhered to the principles of peacekeeping identified above. And their success rate has been high wherever politico-military objectives and directions were clear.

With the changing nature of conflicts, peacekeeping operations, especially after the Cold War, have also become more complex and multi-dimensional. They have gone beyond the traditional mold of just maintaining a ceasefire, and have strayed into arenas like peace enforcement, peace building, conflict transformation and resolution. The Indian Army has kept pace with these changing dynamics of peacekeeping and is on constant refinement mode drawing heavily from its previous experiences.

The author is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi

Courtesy: The Indian Express, 15 January 2011

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Dr. N Manoharan
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