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Pakistan’s participation in the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia commemorated

The contribution of Pakistani soldiers in the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia, from 1993 to 1995, is worth remembering to promote goodwill on behalf of Pakistan. Additionally, there is a need to further debate the concept of peacekeeping in general, so as to make it more effective.

These views were reflected in a one-day program of presentations and interactive dialogue at the remembrance conversation on “Blue Helmets’ Sacrifice in Mogadishu”. The discussion, which was attended by defense analyst, peacekeeping veterans, experts, and academics, brought to light Pakistan’s and Italy’s participation in UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia, 1993-95.

In his welcome remarks, Director Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) Muhammad Amir Rana, said the peacekeeping mission in Somalia in the early 1990s was not an ordinary mission. There were several instances of combat, in which peacekeeping forces also laid down their lives, including Pakistan.

Later on, a veteran of the peacekeeping mission in Somalia said that the mission ran in two phases, UNOSOM-I and II. The first phase was about humanitarian support, to ensure supply of goods; but the second phase involved law-enforcement mandate too.

The need for peacekeeping mission was felt amid civil war that erupted in Somalia. Many Somalis emigrated out. Mr. Rana also mentioned that Pakistan actively supported Somalia then. It hosted many Somali refugees back then.

Meanwhile, former ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi recalled that he was serving as acting ambassador in the United States when the request of sending troops to Somalia came to Pakistan. Strikingly, at that time, Pakistan was being put on a watch list of terrorism. Ambassador Naqvi recalled that he called the Pakistani government to send troops in Somalia, as it will positively impact Pakistan’s standing. Ultimately, Pakistan was taken out of watch list after six months.

Somali ambassador Khadija Al-Makhzoomi mentioned that her country was in dire need of international aid during civil war in 1991. Pakistan, she said, was the first country that to respond to the call of UN, followed by Italian and some other countries. She expressed her gratitude for Pakistani soldiers who sacrificed their lives to bring peace in Somalia.

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Masood Aslam, defense expert, 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.

Two peacekeeping veterans, Colonel (Retd.) Athar Waziri and Major (Retd.) Khurram Shahzad, reminded of the sacrifices of Pakistanis in that mission. In June 1993, Pakistani soldiers were attacked by rebels from all sides, in which, a veteran recalled, 23 Pakistanis laid down their lives, 52 were wounded, while 17 faced disabilities.

Colonel Waziri stressed upon the tribal dimension of the civil war in Somalia back then, saying that the tribalism there was intense than in the tribal part of Pakistan.

It was also debated as to whether the peacekeeping forces were prepared for the attack in Somalia. 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.

In Somalia, during the UN mission, the participation of Pakistani and Italian troops in Somalia mission can be portrayed as an example of friendly relations between two countries.

Ambassador of Italy in Pakistan Stefano Pontecorvo said the mission represent very close cooperation between Italy and Pakistan. In the incident in which 24 Pakistanis were killed and others were surrounded, the Italian forces came to rescue. The Italian forces were the first to notice Pakistani soldiers. The ambassador said when he was looking for examples of Pakistan-Italy cooperation, this clearly struck out as being very important.

Brigadier General Giorgio Raino, Italian Military Attaché underlined friendship of Italy with Somalia and Pakistan. Peacekeeping is a mission that helps other people, he said. The brigadier general gave detailed presentation of what was called as “Checkpost Pasta” incident, in which two Italian crew members were injured and one died.

Professor Paolo Radi emphasized Italy’s participation in UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Participants also unpacked the concept of “blue helmet”.  Lt. Gen. (Retd) Aslam said peacekeeping is the noblest concept of employing force. It is supposed to be a neutral body with no enemy.

He, however, 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.

Similarly, he pointed out that United States has never allowed its troops to use blue helmet. They always remained independent of UN. That also contributed in creating problems.

During discussion, Vice Chancellor of Sargodha University, Dr. Ishtiaq asserted western movies on the topic are not actual representation of the incident. He argued that while the UN peacekeeping has a proud history, it also had a dark chapter too. It is high time that other countries document their own history of peacekeeping contribution too.

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