…should be our response in Congo.
Why does India send its troops on UN assignments abroad? Although there are many facile arguments put forth for deploying the Indian military in far-away lands “in the cause of an ideal”, it is evident that such deployment is not dictated to meet any national policy or grand diplomatic goals.
There are reports of Indian soldiers and armoured vehicles coming under attack from the locals and the rebels, as rebels advance against the government forces in Congo. India is the largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping mission there with over 4500 soldiers and 10 helicopters. AP reports that the locals have also turned against the UN peacekeepers.
A tank from the Congolese army careened into a wave of refugees fleeing fighting near Goma this week, killing three teenagers just down the road from a camp of Indian peacekeepers.
Unaware of the accident, the peacekeepers took no action as thousands of refugees streamed down the road past their base.
“Where are the ‘Blue Helmets?’” the refugees demanded to know, referring to the peacekeepers’ distinctive headgear.
When the U.N. troops learned of the accident from AP reporters at the scene and drove with them to investigate, they were stoned by angry civilians and forced to turn back before they reached the hastily dug graves of the victims.
Even before the latest eruption of violence, the peacekeepers’ credibility was damaged by accusations of sexual abuse of local women, illegal gold trading and corruption.
While this is certainly an indictment of the flawed model of UN peacekeeping and India’s willingness to be one of its largest contributors, the official response from the Indian Army is appalling.
Lt. Gen SPS Dhillon, Deputy COAS, said, “The attack on our soldiers in Congo has been taken note of at the highest level. We have informed the United Nations Security Council as well. We are awaiting a decision from the UN. This is their mission and we cannot influence our soldiers.”
Th facts are to the contrary. The UN mission in Congo is acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. This is different from the traditional methods of resolving disputes peacefully, such as negotiation and mediation under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Under a Chapter VII “peace enforcement” mandate, both military and non-military action is authorised to the troops to restore peace and security. The Indian soldiers are thus allowed to take the necessary action, in their areas of deployment, to protect UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel and to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.
The Indian contingent needs no approval from the UNSC to take military action to restore the situation. The Indian troops are already there, and should, arguably, help to stabilise the situation by taking all necessary military and non-military action. The Indian military, as a professional military of an emergent India, unlike the many NATO allies in Afghanistan, cannot be seen as avoiding the difficult part of a UN peace enforcement mission.
However, there are newsreports that the Indian government may be having a rethink on the participation of its soldiers in the mission itself. It would do well to remember that running away when things get hairy in conflicts has far-reaching consequences. The Belgian exit in Rwanda and the Dutch exit from Srebrenica suggest that such hasty exits are always followed by genocides and humanitarian catastrophe. India, either due to inaction by its military contingent in Congo or the withdrawal of its contingent, can not be seen as permitting a similar humanitarian disaster in the African continent.
One question that obviously comes in such a debate. This conflict does not concern India; why should Indian soldiers then risk their lives in a foreign land?
It is not the right question to ask. The real question should be — Why should Indian government send its troops to such missions, where India has no interests, in the first place?