Dying for peace

India, which is among the largest contributors of personnel for United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, has incurred a heavy cost in terms of human lives in the course of its operations. In 2013, it lost seven of its soldiers – the second highest number of fatalities of any troop contributing country.

A fifth of all UN peacekeeping fatalities last year were from India. All seven deaths came in the course of peacekeeping operations in South Sudan; five of them in an ambush in Jonglei state in April and two when a base of the UN Mission in South Sudan came under rebel attack. In over 60 years of participation in UN peacekeeping missions, India has suffered 154 fatalities – the highest for any country.

One reason for high Indian fatalities is that we have never been risk-averse in deployment. Indian peacekeepers have deployed without hesitation in zones of extreme uncertainty. Besides, increasingly, peacekeeping missions are in the middle of an active conflict as in South Sudan, for instance. Our peacekeepers there are often in the direct line of fire of one side or another. 

Some in India have suggested downsizing our peacekeeping involvement. This is not an option and unbecoming of a rising power committed to global peace. Instead, India must play a bigger role in crafting the rules of peacekeeping. Some of the new rules are putting the lives of our peacekeepers in greater jeopardy. For instance, in March last year, the UN Security Council authorised an ‘intervention brigade’ for the Democratic Republic of Congo with a mandate to carry out offensive military action against rebels.

Aimed at giving peacekeeping operations some teeth, intervention brigades could make traditional peacekeepers more vulnerable to attacks. As part of the peacekeeping unit, the intervention brigades wear the same uniform and there is a danger that combatants seeking to retaliate against personnel of intervention brigades may attack the traditional peacekeepers. It could mean a rise in fatalities of traditional peacekeepers, an issue of concern for India.

Rules of peacekeeping are being changed without consulting countries like India that provide the peacekeepers and suffer heavy casualties. These peacekeepers sacrifice their lives for the cause of peace. The list of fatalities bears testimony to these sacrifices. The least the UN can do is to listen to those who are out there on the frontlines giving substance to its commitment to global peace and carrying forward its peacekeeping mandate.

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