Bangladesh and UN Peacekeeping challenges & prospects
MAHFUZ ANAM, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, THE DAILY STAR
We have felt over a long time that Bangladesh's contribution to the peacekeeping in the world is one of the untold stories to the people Bangladesh. We have heard about it from international media, we have written about it occasionally, but nothing comprehensive has been done. We haven't told the story of our peacekeeping in a comprehensive manner, neither to the people of Bangladesh and definitely not to the people of the world. With whatever shortcomings there are, I think this is one of the substantial ways in which Bangladesh has contributed to world peace.
BRIG GEN SHAHEDUL ANAM KHAN (RETD.), ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE DAILY STAR
I thank all of you for being here this morning. For some of you it was very short notice
One of the achievements that has brought our country to international limelight is our achievements in UN Peacekeeping operations. While it has brought laurels to us it has also added increasing responsibilities to keep our performance level high. Despite many constraints at home, Bangladesh has always fulfilled UN requests to contribute to UN missions. The performance of our officers, as far as my experience as a Chief Military Observer go, wherein I had officers from Bangladesh too, was extremely gratifying. Even under the most adverse circumstances, like in Cambodia or Bihac we held firm against the most severe physical assault of some recalcitrant elements.
For this morning, to start things off, we will start by three brief presentations on the Contributions of the three services and the Police. Not to forget the exemplary role our diplomats played in the UN in propagating our case for induction in the realm of peacekeepers, Ambassador Hemayet Uddin will give his experience as diplomat and former foreign secretary in this regard. We shall then ask some mission commanders to give us their experience and lessons leant. We will end with an open session.
The first to go will be Major Geeneral Ashfaq.
MAJOR GENERAL KAZI ASHFAQ AHMED (RETD.), FORMER MISSION COMMANDER IN GEORGIA
The Concept of peacekeeping was never considered as an option of the UN when the charter was drawn up in 1945. It subsequently emerged when the need was felt to provide the diplomatic space to the belligerents to sort matters out by interposing UN blue berets between them.
At present we have 16 missions deployed in various parts of the world: Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Mali, Haiti, Congo, Darfur, Golan Height, Cyprus, Lebanon, Abbey in Africa, Kosovo, Liberia, South Sudan, India, Pakistan, Ivory Coast and the Middle East.
Bangabandhu reiterated firm commitment to world peace in his speech at the UN General Assembly in 1974. Bangladesh sent a medical team of 28 members to Syria in the aftermath of Arab-Israeli war in 1973. Our formal participation in peacekeeping missions started in 1988 with 15 observers in UNIMOG (Iraq-Iran). Till now, Bangladesh has participated in 54 of the total 70 UN Peacekeeping missions.
Bangladesh Army participated in 46 missions. Total number of peacekeepers from Bangladesh Army is 1,41,726.
We have so far lost 122 personnel in our quest to establish peace in various parts of the world
Sierra Leone has declared Bangla as their country's 2nd language. Liberia has named their capital's major street after Bangladesh. And a few African countries have set up schools naming Bangladesh ie. Sierra Leone – Bangladesh Friendship School.
COMMODORE M N ABSAR (LPR), FORMER UN OBSERVER IN RWANDA
Article 25 of the Constitution mentions that Bangladesh will work for promoting international peace, security and solidarity. Bangladesh has been committed to this constitutional pledge, and now it is one of the biggest contributors of personnel in UN peacekeeping operations. As of March 31, 2017, Bangladesh Navy has contributed 6904 personnel in 29 UN peacekeeping missions. Bangladesh is now the fourth largest contributor.
The first independent Bangladesh Navy contingent was deployed in UNIKOM in 1997 to patrol the water ways, demarcating the Iraq-Kuwait border as a part of the demilitarized zone enforcement. Following that, Bangladesh Navy deployed its independent four units in Sudan and boat detachment unit in Ivory Coast in 2005. It continued there for 12 years. Subsequently, Bangladesh Navy ventured into more enterprising undertaking with pioneer deployment of two ships as part of maritime task forces in Lebanon in 2010. Such deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, almost 8000 km away from home, is a testimony to the operational and sustenance capability of Bangladesh Navy.
AIR CDRE ANISUR RAHMAN (RETD.), FORMER BAF CONTINGENT COMMANDER MALI
Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) started its UN peacekeeping operations with only 26 members in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993 and till today we have contributed more than five thousand personnel in 17 countries. At present we are operating in 4 different countries with 6 helicopters and one transport aircraft. Our present contribution of personnel is more than 1000.
Bangladesh is now known to the world for the professionalism of its troops deployed in various UN missions. This contribution of Bangladesh has been recognised in the Security Council several times.
The UN engagement has increased our knowledge of working in different operational environment, even in warlike situation. It has increased flying-hour experience and maintenance capacity of BAF personnel. So far BAF has flown about 42,000 hours in the mission area.
There are also some challenges that need to be addressed to carry forward our effort.
Due to the increasing cost of aviation materials and maintenance, flying in support of peacekeeping operation under current arrangement is becoming difficult. Again, the ongoing global recession has also affected financial contributions to peacekeeping missions.
BARRISTER MAHBUBUR RAHMAN, DIG, (POLICE HQ OPS DTE)
Bangladesh Police started sending personnel to the UN mission in 1989. Our first mission was in Namibia. In 2005 we send police unit which was a major progress in our activities. At present we have 1152 officers serving in different missions among whom 164 are female police officers.
HEMAYET UDDIN, FORMER AMBASSADOR & FOREIGN SECRETARY
Diplomacy and peacekeeping are intimately interlinked. A proactive role calls for astute diplomacy in the part of the professionals on the ground and the foreign ministry. The link between diplomacy and peacekeeping begins from the conceptual stage and continues to the very end. During this entire period, it becomes incumbent to remain fully engrossed in monitoring the developments, both in the crisis area and elsewhere in international relations. Peacekeeping operation has two essential ingredients - diplomacy in the policy formulation and decision making and peacekeeping implementation with military and police commanders and other stakeholders on ground. As a troop contributing country it is our responsibility that we negotiate the best terms to meet our objectives before we commit our peacekeepers to any particular mission.
MAJOR GENERAL FAZLE ELAHI AKBAR, (RETD.), FORMER FORCE COMMANDER IN SUDAN
When Bangladesh was requested to contribute to the UN peacekeeping mission we were not sure about our responsibility because we had no formal training on it. Frankly speaking we did not have any understanding about the difference between peacekeeping force and observer mission. There was also reservation from various quarters of the army about the decision of sending troops to foreign mission. But it was the Army leadership that gave the go ahead.
Bangladeshi contingent is excellent in their behavior. They build friendly relations with locals. That's why you see Bangla as a second language in some countries. There are many schools that have been built by Bangladesh peacekeepers.
We are highly disciplined. This is one aspect we must say and of course, to be frank, the money the soldiers get has something to do with it because soldiers don't want to be thrown away from the mission. On the whole, we are disciplined compared to many other troops
Our engineering core is very active. Wherever they go, be it mine clearing or construction, they do their job efficiently. However, there is a scope of improving our intelligence capability in mission area. We should invest in this sector to improve our overall performance.
BRIG GEN ABDUL HAKIM AZIZ (RETD.), FORMER UNMO AT UNIMOG & CONTINGENT COMMANDER IN IVORY COAST
My first UN mission was UNIIMOG. Then I served in Ivory Coast as a commander. Now I am a proud father of a peacekeeper. In the missions our main task was peacekeeping.
In the first mission I had seven tasks, and when I went to Ivory Coast the UN mandate gave us 18 tasks to perform; now I find the number of tasks to be performed has risen to 30. Now as far as Mali is concerned the mission has been named as Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission. The New York Times says UN mission in Mali is the organizations deadliest deployment in the world.
The challenges for our peacekeepers from mission to mission varies because of the different tasks, different scenario, different conflicting parties and different stakeholders’ interests especially superpowers. Many of our seniors know how the role of superpowers have changed the rule of the game. The same report on Mali in the Washington Post says, “In New York headquarter the diplomats are debating, should UN forces be engaged in counter terrorism tasks at all?” And please note this is not the end this is just the beginning. All the future missions will be like this, like the environment in Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. These are the likely situation our boys might find them in in future UN missions.
BRIG GENERAL SALIM AKHTAR (RETD.), FORMER CONTINGENT COMMANDER IN BOSNIA
Our battalion was deployed in Bosnia where we didn't have the luxury of what the UN missions enjoy today. It was a great thing that we committed a mechanized battalion in 45 days something that even the British admittedly would be very wary of committing
At that time we saw a lot of politics by big power in deciding deployment of troops. We were told there were serious objections by some of the European nations in deploying a Muslim battalion in a Muslim country. Our actual mission was cancelled. As the Serb forces were approaching us we were told to move out of our base to be replaced by a battalion from another country. I replied them to take permission from my government through the UN Headquarter. “Unless I get order from my government to leave the city, I'm not moving on, I'm staying here” was my answer. I followed the advice of a French commander that you work first for your country's interest, United Nations comes later. We survived in the snow of Bosnia.
BRIG GEN KHONDOKAR KAMALUZZAMAN (RETD.), FORMER CONTINGENT COMMANDER IN CAMBODIA
UN operations in Cambodia from 1992-93 was at that time the most ambitious and expensive undertaking. Bangladesh's contribution to that mission included an infantry contingent. I served as the commanding officer of that contingent.
Our main task was to demobilize all the belligerent groups and provide security support to unarmed UNTAC and UN components. Bangladesh also contributed a company to the reconstructing effort of damaged infrastructure of Cambodia. We prepared a comprehensive civic action programme where we taught people about basic health services such preparation of oral saline.
During that tenure of our operation we had to encounter major attacks from Khmer Rouge (KR) fighters. In one instance, our camp was attacked by 300 KR troops. The locals warned the camp commander about the impending attack and we took adequate preparation. The battle continued for four hours and we successfully resisted them. Our efforts were greatly praised by international media.
MAJOR GENERAL REZANUR RAHMAN KHAN (RETD.), FORMER COMMANDANT OF BIPSOT
Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training (BIPSOT) is a globally recognized peacekeeping training institution. It conducts deployment and other thematic training such as disarmament, protection of civilians, prevention of conflict induced sexual harassment and so on. It has partnership with national and international bodies. It is well equipped in terms of both infrastructure and technical expertise. BIPSOT courses have been recognized by the US Department of State.
SHAMSHER M CHOWDHURY BB , FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY
As an UN international civil servant I visited Liberia to see the condition of the peacekeepers. There I went to a small area called Fish Town. I met a team from Bangladesh battalion. They informed me that they grow vegetables and help locals in doing that. It earned them popularity among the locals. Later the Pakistani battalion deployed in the same area was withdrawn and the additional responsibility was given to BanBat. This is a reflection of the credibility and success that Bangladesh achieved in foreign lands.
LT GEN ABDUL HAFIZ (RETD.), FORMER FORCE COMMANDER IN IVORY COAST
I was fortunate to be in the group of pioneers of UNIKOM that arrived in the mission area in April 1991. It was a challenging task because at that time we did not have adequate infrastructure and amenities. But it was a great experience. We had to quickly adapt ourselves in a multinational environment. It was the first time that all the permanent members of the Security Council contributed to a peacekeeping mission. We were excited to prove that we know how to do patrols, how to prepare reports, how to brief and arrange briefings and above all we know how to deal with emergencies. We had to live in the tents under scorching heat. As Bangladeshis we proved that we can survive in the desert without any sort of modern amenities. It was a successful mission. Soon after completion of the UNIKOM the UN requested Bangladesh for an infantry security battalion to protect and provide security to the 300 observers.
I want to share some experiences of Ivory Coast. The mission was named UNOCI. It was essentially a political mission. Our challenge was to maintain contact with the belligerent groups and establish liaison with the military forces. We were trying to build confidence and trust among various groups. Unfortunately there was very little progress in the implementation of peace process because of trust deficit. We saw sporadic violence throughout the country. It has to be underlined that, peacekeeping is extensively a political affair. Everything the peacekeepers do is designed to push forward a political process. Since the process was stalled, as liaison officers our task was to simply maintain contact with various groups on the ground to show presence of the UN flag. But the situation started worsening and it was felt necessary to deploy a full-fledged peacekeeping mission. Finally it was done in April 2004.
I learnt great lessons from my mission experience. First there has to be credible progress on the political road map that has been agreed upon by the parties to continue peacekeeping operations. Peacekeepers must foresee the consequence of fast evolving situation on the ground and be prepared to face it.
LT GEN MD MAINUL ISLAM (RETD.) FORMER CGS AND UNMO
I was a part of the first observer contingent from Bangladesh to UNIIMOG deployed in Iraq. We were inducted in the mission area with very little preparation but it was our military training that helped us to adjust to the new environment.
In Iraq we had to regularly report to UN about the situation of the border area upto 10 km. One day we received a message to give information about deployment of missiles upto 25 km of the border. We were ready to do the patrolling and send the report. But one of our observers from a Scandinavian country told us not to give the message because the request was made by CIA. So we did not send the report.
As far as the matter of debriefing goes it is done three level nowadays. the contingent commander with his officers, brief the Army Headquarter Then they brief the ministry of foreign affairs. After that they go to the BIPSOT and they are debriefed for two days. So these three tier debriefing is done at that all level.
AMBASSADOR RASHED AHMED, FORMER REGIONAL ADMINISTRATOR IN KOSOVO
I served in Kosovo for five years. It was a magnificent experience for me and my colleagues. I believe that our peacekeepers are the strongest arm of our diplomacy and we should recognize their outstanding contribution.
ABM BAZLUR RAHMAN, FORMER ADDITIONAL IG, BANGLADESH POLICE
I worked in Bosnia with the local police. I also served in East Timur during 2001-02. Bangladesh police personnel carried out all the regular activities of law enforcement in that country. I was there as a technical adviser. One day the army attacked the police headquarter. There was firing from all sides. I ran to my car through the hell of bullets and drove to UN headquarter. If I stayed in the office I would have been dead. I will never forget the tremendous amount of risk the army and police have to carry while serving in the mission.
NILOY RANJAN BISWAS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, UNIVERSITY OF DHAKA
I urge the government and the forces to do infographic research about the peacekeeping missions and collect the stories of the first generation peacekeepers. Today we have heard fascinating tales of dedication and professionalism. These need to be recorded systematically.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preparing a national peacekeeping strategy in collaboration with forces and police. This needs to be taken seriously. We should recognize the changing nature of peacekeeping operations and offer our packages accordingly. Besides peacekeeping there are important task of peace building which starts after enforcement of peacekeeping. We should prepare our troops for these services. Our civil service, professional and private sector can also join in the effort. We should include these aspects in our national peacekeeping strategy.
REAR ADMIRAL SHAH IQBAL MUJTABA, FORMER CNS, BANGLADESH NAVY
When Shamsher Mubin Chowdhury was foreign secretary we contacted him for finding scopes of sending our troops including ships to the UN mission. Our joint effort proved successful. We got an offer from the UN and successfully send our naval force there. In 2010 we sent ship to the mission. We are equally contributing as our colleagues from Army and Air Force.
ADMIRAL M. FARID HABIB ( RTD.), FORMER CNS, BANGLADESH NAVY
It was in 1991, when I was a staff officer at Naval Headquarter in Operations Directorate. A letter came from AFD asking how many offices we could spare for the UN mission. And the reply from the Navy was -- none. Our mindset was that we were facing difficulty in maintaining our ships, how we could spare personnel for the UN mission. Now we have 509 navy personnel deployed in UN mission.
The breakthrough came in 2010 when we first deployed two ships in the UN full-fledged naval mission in Lebanon. Till now we have been maintaining our support with two ships while big countries like Germany, Indonesia and Turkey have contributed only one ship there. This kind of deployment provides us tremendous benefit in terms of training of our personnel. They participate in border patrolling and joint exercises. Besides that, Bangladesh government is also earning huge foreign currency through this deployment. Bangladesh get Tk110 crore for these two ships. And for other 14 high speed boats deployed in south Sudan, Bangladesh government is getting Tk 60 crore per year. Bangladesh Navy is now prepared to provide more ships. We should continue our effort.
REAR ADMIRAL ASMA AWAL (RETD.), FORMER AMBASSADOR AND ASSISTANT CHIEF OF NAVAL STAFF, BANGLADESH NAVY
We need to share the stories of peacekeepers to inform our people about Bangladesh's contribution to the maintenance of world peace. The contributions and sacrifices made by our forces should not be forgotten. Finally, Bangladesh deserves better position in the UN for its contribution to the peacekeeping mission. We should strengthen our diplomacy regarding peacekeeping.
LT GEN M HARUN-AR-RASHID BP (RETD.), FORMER CAS, BANGLADESH ARMY
I want to share the experience of UNOMIG. It was an exceptional case. Generally all missions come from Security Council whereas UNOMIG came from Moscow Agreement. Initially it was not authorized by the Security Council. Later on the Security Council came to rescue the Moscow agreement of 1994. Again the treaty was signed between Georgia and Abkhazia. The former was an internationally recognized country and the later was not a signatory to the United Nations nor was it recognized. In this complex situation, UNOMIG had to operate. There we had to deal with three governments: the government of Georgia, the government of Abkhazia and the exiled government of Abhkhazia which was secretly supported by Georgia. None of these governments had total control over the fighters, even the Georgian army was not under the control of the Georgian authority. During my stay full scale war broke up three times and three times we had to negotiate the ceasefire and ceasefire line. I served there for 19 months. It was an unforgettable experience of my life.
LT GEN M NOORUDDIN KHAN, FORMER CAS BANGLADESH ARMY
I want to share the story of sending our troops to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. At that time Bangladesh was in very friendly terms with Saddam Hussein of Iraq. So it was a critical decision to send troops against Saddam's interest. After a week-long deliberation we decided to send our troops. It was named Operation Moruprantor. It brought laudable success for us.
I would like to thank all those present here for their service to world as part of the Blue Helmets. They have brought laurels for Bangladesh
As I was sitting here and trying to feel with what intensity, with what devotion, with what humanity, with what empathy you have served people of other countries. As a soldier you are trained to serve your country. When you go to other countries to serve them it literally shows your humanity.
Thank you all.