Pakistan Armed Forces’ participation in UN peacekeeping mission in 1960 marked the beginning of its peacekeeping journey, which continues till date. Since then our peacekeepers have performed various tasks under the banner of UN in service of humanity ranging from security operations, maintenance of law and order situation, and humanitarian/ relief operations. Pakistan is the largest troops contributor to the UN peacekeeping mission all over the world. Pakistan is fully committed in promoting peace and stability regionally as well as globally. In pursuance of this noble cause of international peace, 156 Pakistani blue helmets have embraced martyrdom while serving under the UN umbrella. Induction of female Peacekeepers by Pakistan Army started in 2017; and the first mission area is Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Now, we were here to replace our pioneers’ female peacekeepers which was a great honor in itself. On June 19, 2018, we set our first steps on the beautiful lands of Africa. Africa is famous for its natural beauty including thick forests, beautiful landscapes and magnificent water bodies. Travelling to a new continent and wearing the UN Blue Berets was an extraordinary feeling. My course-mate and I were both in high spirits on the day we landed at Bujumbura International Airport (Burundi). All we could see were blue caps all around and the scene boosted our morale. It was a tiring journey of 14 hours to reach our destination but we were as fresh as at the time we started our journey. The best thing that happened at the airport was meeting with the outgoing party of our colleagues who were all set to go back to Pakistan after spending one complete year of their mission abroad.
The airport was full of people with mixed feelings. Some were happy for going back to their loved ones while some like us were excited to explore the new land and people. We collected our luggage and from there our journey towards Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) started. Just after 10 minutes of drive, we reached at the international border between Burundi and DRC. We completed the border formalities and started our journey inside DRC. Sitting in a UN vehicle, wearing the UN beret, the world looked completely different. It was a land of beautiful scenic view with greenery all around and nevertheless the beautiful people of this country who were standing by the roadside. The children started clapping and screaming once our vehicles passed by them. We could easily observe hope in their eyes as they greeted us happily. Watching a female in uniform was a bit different for them as the ladies especially waved to us with great excitement and reverence. It was a long journey. There were lush green lands including tea gardens on both sides of the road. The roads were not in good condition which made the journey bit difficult and tiring. As the journey continued we realized that the people around were in very poor condition. There were children with no clothes and shoes, ladies moving on foot with heavy baggage on their heads and back. There were no proper houses — majority were mud houses. It is such a gifted country with natural resources and yet people are dying for basic amenities. Our feelings started changing from excitement to grief.
Since our arrival in Congo, every day comes up with a new experience; meeting new people from different countries, getting to know about the African culture, their languages, traditions, problems and so much more. One good thing is their attitude towards the UN forces especially Pakistani contingents. They express gratitude and show respect to our norms and values. They are such simple minded people that even if someone greets them in their language, they start clapping and become jubilant.
It has only been three months in the mission area but it feels like a long tour of duty. We have celebrated our Eid-ul-Azha here with our countrymen being our new family in Congo; though Eid did remind us of our families back in Pakistan. We also celebrated our Independence Day with extreme fervor and pride with guests from other countries, local notables and common people. We showed them documentary films on emerging Pakistan which actually changed the mindset/image regarding Pakistan of all the people present there.
In a nutshell, so far the stay in mission area is interesting as well as educative. It is indeed a whole new experience to learn about diverse humanity, sacrifices, and helplessness of poor people for which we have come as a HOPE. This feeling can only be experienced in a UN uniform, being soldiers of the great Pakistan Army.
We are soldiers of peace in every land and every region wherever we are assigned the mission.
Long Live Pakistan Army!