India must back its troops with diplomatic resolve. And consider backing out.
A detachment of Indian troops is holed out in Congo, as part of a UN peacekeeping contingent charged with protecting civilian lives in a bloody, but forgotten conflict. News reports suggest that a rebel militia is now poised to attack their base near Rushturu. While the international peacekeepers have not taken previous attacks lying down, and may yet deter the rebels from directly attacking them, the possibility of a serious battle cannot be ruled out. A skirmish late last month claimed the life of one soldier and injured four others.
There is little information available, though, of efforts India’s diplomats are putting in to either resolve the conflict in war-torn Congo or better protect its soldiers. In any case, peacekeeping troops cannot solely be India’s contribution. That does not even translate to a stronger voice in the relevant UN debates, where the interests of the permanent members of the Security Council determine ultimate results. It is difficult to erase the impression that those Indian soldiers are engaged in a conflict their fellow-citizens don’t know and don’t care about, and their government can’t really be bothered about.
It is argued that sending peacekeepers to far-flung conflict zones is a source of combat experience, international co-operation and income. In the past, these were, arguably, important for India. But its neighbours already provide more than enough opportunities for combat experience. Meaningful international military co-operation can be better achieved through joint-exercises and operations with American, South-east Asian and even Chinese armed forces. And surely, hard-currency income from UN duties is not that important these days. Moreover, almost by definition, UN peacekeeping duties do not allow countries to promote their own interests in the conflict zones.
For now as India’s Blue Helmets prepare to engage a hordes of Congolese militiamen it is imperative that its diplomats do what is necessary to help them defend themselves. It is timely also for the Indian government to rethink the role of Indian troops in UN peacekeeping duties.