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Think about the United Nations!
October 18, 2018

If you are like the majority of my friends, you would have imagined UN Peacekeeping – Blue helmets, tanks, soldiers with their guns or refugee camps.

But if you were to ask Liberians like Sahr Sundu and Musa Karnley, you will get a different answer.

Liberia the first independent African Republic (established in 1847) has suffered two civil wars that claimed over 250,000 lives and ruined the social, cultural and economic structure. The UN Mission in

Liberia, or UNMIL, was deployed in October 2003. The Mission’s 14-plus years of operation was a success story. Relative peace and order were restored; however, the economy was in dire straits. The UN mission had a limited budget, and the iron-clad scope was restricting its activities. Staying within the mandate, UNMIL troops conducted several quick-impact projects (QIPs) to alleviate the suffering of the population.

The Pakistani Battalion in Liberia led a quick-impact project (QIP) to teach much-needed skills like how to repair electrical appliances, generators, and other equipment. The primary motivation of this project was to prevent internal-displacement and migration – if people in Tubmanburg got proper training they would not have to run to Monrovia (the capital).

“The Story of UNMIL,” a recent United Nations book cites an encounter of a UN observer with two Liberians who attended the training nine years ago:

“Mr. Sahr now owns God’s Time is the Best Workshop, which he says is the best in Tubmanburg and built most of the doors and windows in the town. He had been trained as a welder/ technician by the Pakistani engineers. He said that the training had helped him, his family and the immediate community.”

“Musa Karnley was also trained by the Pakistanis as a welder and a generator technician and is currently the manager of Nakar Garage in Tubmanburg, specializing in generator repair and welding. He said that the training gave him the knowledge and technical skills to do repairs, and had given him an edge over the competition, especially in getting new jobs. His income increased tremendously, he said.”

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has come to a conclusion, mostly thanks to the Troop Contributing Countries. Pakistan’s two battalions went home leaving behind millions of happy Liberians.

Last year, Major General Saihu Zaway Uba, Force Commander of UNMIL expressed concern with the drawdown of the mission. He told the Security Council that his Mission’s 14-year presence had been reduced to just 434 troops on the ground and was expected to be fully liquidated in June 2018. He recommended “clear and flexible” planning considerations in the transition phase, and a graduated approach to drawdown, among other measures.

The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) completed its mandate last year after more than thirteen years. In general, a drawdown of the troops is a good thing. However, if not done correctly, the risk of chaos and civil war looms high. A staggered drawdown of troops coupled with capacity building of local law enforcement mitigates the risk of a relapse into violence.

The UN Peacekeeping has been under significant pressure. The 2018/19 budget for thirteen peacekeeping operations and overhaul of secretariat management structure is $6.69 Billion. Down from approximately $7.5 Billion a year ago.

Historically, the United States has been a generous donor to the Peacekeeping operations. But the Trump administration introduced drastic cuts to the Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA) in 2019, budget slashing over $710 million for CIPA account, which includes UN Peacekeeping funding. CIPA dropped from $1.908 billion to $1.196 billion – a 37 percent cut from FY’17 enacted levels.

Trump administrations critics claim this move is unwise. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) agrees. A recent GAO report states that supporting UN Peacekeeping operations is eight times cheaper than the U.S. going it alone.

Better World Campaign President Peter Yeo in a statement said: “supporting the UN is both in our (US) national security interests and a good deal for American taxpayers.”

Peacekeeping Organization has also been under tremendous scrutiny to show an outcome leading to management reforms.  After much debate among member nations, the Organization announced two new departments focused on political and peacebuilding affairs and four stand-alone divisions for Africa to “streamline the Organization’s operations.”

In recent years, the United Nations has been prioritizing African TCCs because of the lower cost of logistics. That doesn’t come without risk. Some recently added TCCs do not have the experience, mindset, training or equipment required to carry out the Peacekeeping charter.

Last December, fourteen UN peacekeepers were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The peacekeeping officers were all Tanzanian. A month later, in January 2018, a Pakistani soldier lost his life in an ambush. Our peacekeepers immediately responded with appropriate force killing 11 members of attacking militia.

Since 1960, Pakistan has contributed troops in 46 Peacekeeping missions in 28 countries. In the last ten years, Pakistan has ranked number one among Troop Contributing Countries. Pakistan’s contribution has dropped this year following drawdowns of two battalions from Darfur and one from Congo. UN’s emphasis on recruiting African TCCs has also impacted Pakistan’s ranking.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to United Nations reminds this scribe:

“For over five decades, Pakistan has been a leader in UN peacekeeping, both as a troop contributing country and as an important voice in normative and reform processes at the UN in this area. Pakistan is proud to have contributed to the success of several UN peacekeeping missions. Its role in this critical UN enterprise is one reflection of Pakistan’s commitment to upholding and preserving international peace and stability.”

There is a recognition at the UN headquarters that Pakistani troops are highly experienced in peacekeeping, well equipped and well poised. Sierra Leone’s Military Adviser Col Albert Jusu, in an encounter with his Pakistani counterpart, expressed gratitude saying: “We have left Pakistan’s flag on the schools that you guys built so that we always remember how Pakistan helped us rebuild our country. Pakistani soldiers have the kind of mindset that is needed to stabilize and rebuild.

Besides building schools and bridges, Pakistanis have also delivered healthcare. Major-General Salihu Zaway Uba, UNMIL Force Commander, told the Security Council: “The Pakistani Medical Unit has been providing medical level 2 services to all of the UN personnel and ensuring the stable health of UNMIL personnel.”

Living in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world, I often run into Africans. Many of them know Pakistan because of its contribution to the peacekeeping mission.

The expertise Pakistan has gained serving in these missions culminated in the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon inaugurated CIPS in 2013. Recently Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations, Jean Pierre Lacroix visited CIPS to pay tribute to sacrifices of Pakistani peacekeepers.

Pakistan is now at a point where it can train resources of other TCCs to replicate the success of Liberia, Darfur, Côte d’Ivoire, and Congo.

I know the lives of 156 Pakistani peacekeepers are not gone in vain because today, as a Sudanese friend tells me: “Pakistan knows Africa and Africans know Pakistan.”

This article was published by Hilal Magazine.

About author

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

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