The shame in Congo
What the ‘BBC’ found in its investigation of UN peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo is deeply disturbing. The accusations are serious:
Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, now living in eastern DR Congo.
The Indians traded gold, bought drugs from the militias and flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory.[‘BBC‘]
The Indian High Commission in London has reflexively tried to put a brave face over the allegations, pointing out that the offences are trivial, and that disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty. But this is not the time for the defence ministry to merely go through the routine of setting up panels of inquiry and acting against errant personnel. This is the time for a wholesale re-evaluation of the entire policy of contributing troops to the UN.
The main draw of a UN peacekeeping posting for army personnel is the financial reward. The point that it exposes troops to real conflict environments is bogus: there are too many conflict environments on India’s borders, certainly enough to give the armed forces the desired combat experience.
It would have been quite acceptable to allow Indian soldiers to derive financial benefits if only the UN peacekeeping operations had anything like the discipline, quality control and governance that are the practice in the Indian armed forces. Poorly defined rules of engagement, unclear chains of command, a hodge-podge of equipment and personnel from assorted ‘developing countries’ and great power apathy have bred a culture that allows and covers up errant behaviour.
Needless to say, the armed forces must act to investigate and deal exemplary punishment to those found guilty—not just troops and their immediate officers, but their commanders up the hierarchy as well. The organisational challenge for the armed forces headquarters is to root out the culture of corruption that has seeped in from the UN engagement. Without a complete cleanup, the risk to national security is immense.
While it is too early to conclude that the Indian troops are guilty, the accusations are serious enough. India should immediately suspend all further deployments under the UN flag. This should be followed by a phased withdrawal of all Indian troops currently carrying out UN peacekeeping duties around the world. [See this post on Pragmatic Euphony]. Overseas troop deployments must be seen in the context of promoting the national interest. But that is not the case today. Contribution to UN peacekeeping contingents is not part of any broad strategy: it continues to be done because it is something that has always done (and those that have to do it see it in their interests).