A UN mandate might make it easier for India to send troops to Afghanistan
In the July-Sep 2009 issue of Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) concludes his scenario analysis of Afghanistan with the following:
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan capable of maintaining its strategic autonomy is a vital national interest for India. It is a country with which India has traditionally enjoyed warm and friendly relations. Since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001-02, India has contributed only soft power to the international reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. It has spent approximately US$ 1.5 billion for reconstruction, including building the Delaram-Zaranj highway, building and running schools and hospitals and in training the fledgling Afghan administration. As an aspiring though reluctant regional power, India must overcome its fear of overseas military interventions – occasioned by the ill-advised and unsuccessful foray into Sri Lanka in the 1980s – and stand up and be counted as a genuine rising power that is willing to discharge legitimate regional responsibilities.
Should India agree to send its troops to Afghanistan, it will do so only under a United Nations flag. A fresh UN Security Council mandate will be necessary under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Pakistan will be extremely reluctant to accept Indian troops being positioned in the Jalalabad-Ghazni-Kandahar triangle comprising the worst affected areas as it will see such presence as a direct threat. It will be more prudent to send Indian troops to either Mazar-e-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west and relieve US and NATO forces to fight in the east and south-east. India could send a brigade group (5,000 personnel) to begin with and gradually step up the force level to one infantry division (15,000 personnel) when a fully functional logistics system is in place – either from the south through Chabahar Port (Iran)-Zaranj-Delaram-Garland Highway or from the north through Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. Both the routes will present formidable challenges for logistics, but none that cannot be overcome with methodical planning.
The present situation in the Af-Pak region has reached a strategic stalemate. To break out of the logjam, the international community must consider a fresh approach. The tactical situation calls for the infusion of a much larger number of professionally competent military personnel than NATO-ISAF are capable of mustering. If the challenge of fundamentalist terrorism is to be successfully overcome, the aim should be to close in with and fight the Taliban and the al Qaeda on the ground, rather than seeking to bomb them into submission from the air. Among others, the Indian army and air force can help to turn the tide. It is time the international community stopped playing politics with the future of a volatile region and called on the regional powers to play their rightful role. [IFAJ]
Now, here at INI, we are not big fans of supplying troops for UN peacekeeping operations merely because they are for UN peacekeeping operations. But it must be admitted that, in a positive sense, an Indian military deployment to Afghanistan is more likely if it has UN sanction. Also noteworthy is that Brigadier Kanwal, who has served in the army’s Directorate-General of Military Operations (DGMO), believes that the logistics hurdle of supplying up to 15,000 Indian troops is surmountable.
India must rethink the use of force, not expect the UN to defend its national interests
The clear stream of reason, unfortunately, has lost its way through the dreary desert sand of dead habit. Instead of rethinking the use of military force in securing India’s increasingly global interests, the Indian government appears to want to make emerging realities fit its long-held dogma. We are, of course, referring to India’s call for an international maritime peacekeeping force under the United Nations. (linkthanks: Pragmatic & ST)
That dogma is that India’s overseas military deployments have to be under the UN flag. This is a an undiscriminating bureaucratic position. It never made sense—because UN interventions must be mandated by the Security Council; and the Security Council as it should be to clear to people who follow the news, serves the interests of its five permanent members. So, to expect a UN maritime peacekeeping force to act to secure India’s interests is not only lazy fantasy, but an abdication of a responsibility to protect India’s interests. Why? Because as long as there is no such force, individual states, and coalitions will take action to secure their own interests. But once such a force comes into being, they will have to wait for the wholesomely incompetent UN machinery to swing into action. That’s not all, unilateral or coalition actions will take on a degree of “illegitimacy” if carried out without UN authorisation.
Countries that do not have the capability to defend their interests naturally seek the UN’s help. India is not one of them. Between the UPA government’s general pusillanimity and the bureaucracy’s policy ossification India has taken a unwise position. It must be quickly reversed.
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.
Addressing Anit Mukherjee’s rebuttal
Anit Mukherjee disagrees with the argument that India should reconsider its policy of contributing troops for UN peacekeeping operations. In addition to rebutting four arguments from the case Sushant Singh and I made in our op-ed in the Indian Express last week, he offers three arguments of his own in favour—-that involvement in UN peacekeeping contributes towards India’s soft power; that our arguments can be extended to justify pulling out from the UN as a whole; and that India need not demonstrate the same apathy towards UN peacekeeping as other great powers.
Continue reading Debating UN peacekeeping
The case for India to scale down its UN peacekeeping contributions
Sushant K Singh and I argue that controversy in Congo is a wake-up call for India to review its policy on UN peacekeeping. A slightly edited version of the following appears in today’s Indian Express.
A recent investigation by the BBC’s Panorama found that Indian peacekeepers were among those engaged in smuggling drugs, arms, gold and ivory at the UN mission in Congo. In a recently released report, UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) found three army personnel guilty of minor charges but did not find evidence on the more serious ones. (Indian Express, 11 June).
To be sure, Indian blue helmets were not the only black sheep. But the fact that India finds some of its troops in the dock along with those of the Pakistani army should provide little comfort to defenders of India’s continued involvement in the poorly equipped, poorly mandated and poorly governed operations that characterise UN peacekeeping.
In response, the Indian government 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. Now, the UN itself has little incentive to pursue the allegations aggressively. Given that there is more demand for peacekeepers than its member nations are willing to supply, it is hardly likely to do anything that will embarrass countries—most of them from the developing world—that do contribute troops. So it was perhaps the outcry over the Congo episode that compelled it to announce that “the same (Indian) peacekeepers will not be accepted in future missions”.
Continue reading My op-ed in the Indian Express: Bring the troops back
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.
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).
Related Posts: Regarding the troops in Congo; get the troops out of Lebanon;
Indian Blue Helmets in Sudan have an asinine problem
Major Shambhu Saran Singh, posted at a UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, wrote this in his report: “A donkey, who had decided to end his miserable and wretched life, ran towards the Nile. As he approached the banks, he plunged into the river and moved towards the current and the strong current of the mighty river swept it to a watery grave”. (via Bharat-Rakshak Forum).