The use of armed military contingents was first authorised by the Security Council for deployment with the UN Emergency Force (UNEF 1) in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai after the Arab-Israeli war in 1956. From 15 November 1956 to 19 May 1967, eleven infantry battalions from India successively served with this force. The success of UNEF-1 led the Security Council to readily accept a request by the Congo in 1960 for intervention on attaining independence from Belgium. The UN accepted responsibility for ending secession and re-unifying the country. The rules of engagement were modified to cater for use of force in defence of the mandate, in carrying out humanitarian tasks, and in countering mercenaries. India’s contribution to this operation (ONUC) was not only substantial, but most vital. Between July 14, 1960 and June 30, 1964, two successive Indian brigades participated. 36 Indian personnel lost their lives in the operation, and 124 were wounded.
With the increased commitment in peacekeeping assumed by the UN in the post Cold War era, India continued to provide commanders, armed military contingents, military observers, and staff officers, as also Indian Air Force attack and utility helicopters, to many of the UN missions deployed to keep the peace in various parts of the world. Lebanon from 1998 to date; the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1999 to date; Sudan/South Sudan from 2005 to date, and the Golan Heights from 2006 to date to name a few. India has also provided police personnel to a number of United Nations missions. As in Namibia, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Haiti, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia (where it has created history by providing all-women formed police units that has drawn acclaim locally as well as internationally) and in Sudan/South Sudan.
The current deployment of 7864 personnel as on 31 October 2013 reflects the commitment of troops, military observers and staff officers and civilian police from India in nine of the 15 current UN operations. (Which includes 4038 personnel with MONUSCO in the Congo, 2030 personnel with UNMISS in Southern Sudan, 895 military personnel with UNIFIL in Lebanon; and a contingent of 193 personnel with UNDOF in the Golan Heights. In addition, military observers and/or civilian police personnel are deployed with UNFICYP in Cyprus, UNOCI in Cote d’Ivoire, and MINUSTAH in Haiti).
India has provided eleven force commanders and five deputy commanders to date, and three military advisers at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations including the first one Major General I J Rikhye; later Lt Gen RS Mehta, and most recently, Lt Gen Guha. The country has also provided two Police Advisers at the UN HQ in Mr RS Rathore and Mrs Kiran Bedi.
India’s spontaneous and unreserved participation in UN peacekeeping operations over the years has been a clear demonstration of the country’s commitment to the objectives set out in the UN Charter. Not in terms of rhetoric and symbolism, but in real and practical terms, even to the extent of accepting casualties to personnel (about 150 fatalities to date). This commitment has been acknowledged by the international community, successive Secretaries General and the United Nations Secretariat. But even more significantly, the effectiveness of such participation and commitment to United Nations peacekeeping efforts has drawn respect and praise from fellow professionals of other countries and many others that have served jointly with our commanders, observers, police monitors and contingents, in various parts of the world. Hence, the image of the Indian forces in the international arena is that of highly competent and well-trained professionals.
In order to exploit India’s expertise and experience, a Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping was set up in September 2000 under the aegis of the United Service Institution of India in New Delhi, with the support of the Ministry of External Affairs. This Centre besides overseeing the training of contingents earmarked for peacekeeping operations, has undertaken conduct of training courses for sub-unit commanders, military observers, officers earmarked for deputation on staff appointments, and police personnel. These courses, now formally endorsed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at UN HQ, are also being attended by officers from a number of friendly foreign countries. In addition, the Centre conducts national and international seminars and conferences on the subject of peacekeeping. As it matures, the Centre will also be a repository of our experiences in United Nations peacekeeping. (Padma Bhushan Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Retd) is currently a ‘Distinguished Fellow’ at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)