Making peace in Congo

India must stay and do the job well

The Acorn is a severe critic of India’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations around the world. There is a clear case for India to review its policy on overseas troop deployments—instead of enthusiastically signing up for every UN peacekeeping job that comes its way, India must only deploy its troops where its interests are directly at stake.

Given the rot that had set in the UN’s operations in Congo (MONUC) we had argued for India to immediately withdraw its troops from that theatre. That was earlier this year, before the upsurge in the ethnic war that now threatens to end up in yet another major humanitarian disaster. Now, MONUC’s failure in Congo proves our argument that the UN’s peacekeeping missions are “poorly equipped, poorly mandated and poorly governed operations”. But since Indian troops are in a situation where they can prevent large scale loss of lives, they must be empowered to do whatever is necessary to stop the violence.

Such is the mess in MONUC that the Indian troops believe their rules of engagement do not allow them to enforce the peace. This is absurd. As Pragmatic Euphony points out, the operation has been authorised under Chapter VII of the UN charter. This allows the commanders to authorise the use of force and launch combat operations. The Indian government must provide political backing to its troops in Congo. As has been noted in Rwanda in the 1990s, a demonstration of resolve by the peacekeepers can make the difference between a genocide and a mere bloodbath.

Meanwhile, the Indian government must put the UN Security Council on notice that Indian troops will remain in Congo only as long as it takes to stop this bout of violence.

Why are we involved in UN peacekeeping?

The unasked question

Omair Ahmad’s article on the ugly business of Indian blue helmets in the Congo is titled “rotten olives”. He raises the most important point:

That shining reputation will be in tatters if the current charges of misconduct by Indian peacekeepers in the Congo are proved. The Indian government has assigned Lt Gen Rajinder Singh to investigate the charges, but nobody seems to be taking a look at the purpose of India’s role in UN peacekeeping operations today. Without a clear reason to be participating in such operations, India runs the risk of being lumped together with other developing nations who join these UN missions only for the money and perks. [Outlook]

It’s time for India to stop contributing troops to the UN.

Time to stop contributing troops to the UN

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).

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