From 1948 till January 31 2023, 4,280 peacekeepers have paid the ultimate price of laying down their lives serving under the United Nations flag. This figure includes 171 brave Pakistani men and women. On June 5, 1993, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by Somali insurgents in Mogadishu. This was the highest loss in a peacekeeping operation on a single day. June 5 is officially dedicated to the memory of the Pakistani peacekeeper.
The International Day of United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers is celebrated on May 29 each year. It is to honor and pay tribute to the uniformed and civilian personnel peacekeepers for the invaluable services they have rendered in conflict zones around the world.
Peacekeeping operations are difficult and dangerous. These are conducted in areas outside the territorial remit of one’s country. The obtaining environment is alien, the territory is unfamiliar and there is enemy behind every bush. The rules of engagement are often unclear and the mandate has many risks attached to it. These operations are executed at extreme peril to one’s life.
Peacekeepers have lost lives because of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket-propelled grenades, artillery fire, mortar rounds, landmines, armed and successive ambushes, convoy attacks, suicide attacks, road and air crashes, and targeted assassinations.
From 1948 till January 31 2023, 4,280 peacekeepers have paid the ultimate price of laying down their lives serving under the UN flag. This figure includes 171 brave Pakistani men and women. On June 5, 1993, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by Somali insurgents in Mogadishu. This was the highest loss in a peacekeeping operation on a single day. June 5 is officially dedicated to the memory of the Pakistani peacekeeper.
The United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan was established on January 1, 1949. The Indians no longer allow the military observers to operate on their side of the Line of Control.
On March 29, 2022, Muhammad Ismail, Faizan Ali, Asif Ali Awan, Samiullah Khan, Muhammad Saad Nomani and Muhammad Jamil Khan, six peacekeepers from Pakistan; a peacekeeper from the Russian Federation; and a peacekeeper from Serbia, all of them serving with UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), lost their lives in a helicopter crash in the east of the country (Tshanzu area, 20 kilometres south of Rutshuru, in North Kivu). The helicopter was on a surveillance and reconnaissance mission in an area where clashes had taken place between the M23 militia and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The first death of a peacekeeper occurred in Palestine in July 1948 when a Norwegian soldier was gunned down. Two months later, on Friday, September 7, 1948, Swedish aristocrat Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Mediator in Palestine, was assassinated by the Lehi group, a Zionist terrorist organization, commonly known as the Stern Gang. The Zionists considered the slain UN official sympathetic to the British and the Arabs and therefore a serious threat to the emerging State of Israel. Bernadotte’s killing sent shockwaves into the nascent peacekeeping operation in Palestine.
The second high profile death was also that of a Swedish official. UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld who died in an air crash on September 18, 1961, was en route to negotiate a ceasefire between the UN Operations in the Congo and the Katangese troops under Moise Tshombe. His Douglas DC-6 airliner SE-BDY crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Hammarskjöld and 15 other passengers perished in the incident. Hammarskjöld’s death caused a succession crisis at the UN. There was no line of succession and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had to vote on a successor.
Pakistani peacekeeper Naik Naeem Raza, who served the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC was posthumously awarded a UN medal by Secretary-General António Guterres. Raza had died during an ambush on a UN convoy in January 2018.
On July 22, 1997, during its 3802nd meeting, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 1121 to institute the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal. The first medals were awarded in October 1998. The award is given to any military personnel, police, or civilians who lose their lives while serving in a UN peacekeeping operation, so long as the death did not result from misconduct or criminal acts. The criteria came into force on January 1, 2001 and the medal may be given to individuals who qualified before or after that date. The physical medals are presented to the next of kin of the deceased recipient. The medal is egg-shaped and made of clear lead-free glass, engraved with the name and date of death of the recipient, the UN logo, and the inscription “The Dag Hammarskjöld Medal in the Service of Peace” in English and French.
On October 6, 1998, the first three Dag Hammarskjöld Medals were awarded to Hammarskjöld himself, René de Labarrière (killed by a landmine in Palestine in July 1948), and Folke Bernadotte (assassinated in Jerusalem by Jewish extremists in September 1948). Beginning in 2001, the UN began awarding dozens of medals each month for the UN peacekeepers who had been killed between 1948 and 2001. Since 2001, there have been annual medal ceremonies for those who were killed in UN peacekeeping operations the previous year.
In 2009, the Hammarskjöld Medal was awarded to each of the 132 UN peacekeepers who were killed in 2008. Pakistani peacekeeper Naik Naeem Raza, who served the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC was posthumously awarded a UN medal by Secretary-General António Guterres. Raza had died during an ambush on a UN convoy in January 2018.
Pakistan is one of the leading troop contributing countries for UN peacekeeping operations. Currently, it has more than 4000 troops serving on peacekeeping duties. Since 1960, more than 200,000 Pakistani peacekeepers have served on UN peacekeeping missions.
Peacekeeping is a transitory phase between peace and conflict and does not mean that it will lead to conflict resolution, but it has helped save countless lives and brought peace and stability to many countries over the decades. UN peacekeeping cannot fully succeed on its own in creating the necessary conditions to end conflict and secure lasting political solutions. Its partnerships with member states, civil society, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and other parties are fundamental to bringing tangible improvements in the lives of ordinary people, in areas such as economic development, the rule of law, women’s rights, human rights, health and education.
Two of the oldest UN missions are still deployed in Palestine and Kashmir. The UN peacekeeping mission in Palestine was established on 29 May 29, 1948, when the Security Council authorized the deployment of a small number of UN military observers to the Middle East to form the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), to monitor the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. The United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was established on January 1, 1949. The Indians no longer allow the military observers to operate on their side of the Line of Control (LOC).
Since 1948, more than two million women and men have served in 72 UN peacekeeping operations, directly impacting the lives of millions of people and saving countless lives. Today, UN peacekeeping deploys more than 87,000 military, police and civilian personnel in 12 operations. Pakistan is one of the leading troop contributing countries for UN peacekeeping operations. Currently, it has more than 4000 troops serving on peacekeeping duties. Since 1960, more than 200,000 Pakistani peacekeepers have served on UN peacekeeping missions.
One distinguishing feature about the Pakistani participation is that despite the odds, they have stayed the course. Despite the high rate of casualties in Mogadishu and the Ebola virus in Liberia, Pakistani peacekeepers have not shirked duty and have continued to function.
United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is one of the most dangerous missions in the world. Since its deployment in 2013, more than 250 MINUSMA peacekeepers have lost their lives. They have been deliberately targeted by armed terrorist groups, and faced the threats posed by landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). From 2021-2022, 195 members of the Malian force and 26 civilians have been evacuated at the request of the Malian military authorities. One contributing member state has also withdrawn its peacekeepers from MINUSMA, owing to the inherent risks to their soldiers.
Among the death and carnage in the mandate area of MINUSMA, a Level II hospital at Mopti is providing life-saving services. This hospital is being run by the military doctors of the Pakistani contingent. Staffed with 75 medical personnel, including 10 women and 65 men, the hospital operates 24 hours a day, and is always on the alert. The team is not only in charge of medical care and evacuation of injured Blue Helmets, but also assist civilians and members of the Malian Defense and Security Forces who suffer attacks.
The doctors in this hospital have performed delicate life-saving and urgent surgeries on the injured peacekeepers. For the lady doctors such as the Commanding Officer, Saira Mehboob, Commander Farah Javed Farooqui, and Lieutenant Colonel Ambreen Ahsan, and their colleagues at the Mopti hospital, it is a constant struggle to provide medical aid to the injured.
On the international day for the peacekeepers, we salute our brave men and women serving on the frontlines in UN missions in conflict zones across the world.
The contributor has authored five books, two of which are about UN peacekeeping, i.e., UN Peacekeeping Operations in Somalia 1992-1995: A Pakistani Perspective (2019) and International Peacekeeping: Perspectives from Pakistan (2023).
E-mail: [email protected]
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