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A look back at India’s role in preserving global peace and managing worldwide conflict
The UN Peacekeeping, governed by the Department of Peace Operations, assists countries tormented by conflict in their journey towards sustained peace. It follows three fundamental principles: consent of the parties, impartiality, and refraining from the use of force, except in self-defence. Since its inception in 1948, when military observers were deployed to oversee Israeli-Arab armistice agreements, peacekeepers from various countries have dutifully served, frequently risking their lives in zones of conflict.
The organisation commemorated its 75th anniversary of peacekeeping missions last Thursday, and paid tribute to the over 4,000 deceased peacekeepers, with Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, requesting officers and diplomats to observe a moment of silence in honour of the fallen heroes and later awarding medals to ambassadors from the 39 home countries of the 103 peacekeepers who lost their lives in 2022.
Notably, UN Peacekeeping primarily relies on troops and experts from poor, middle-income, and developing nations. Indian personnel have made significant contributions, with 6,097 currently in service, ranking third after Bangladesh (7,237) and Nepal (6,264). India also holds the unfortunate record of having the highest fatalities due to malicious acts, during UN peacekeeping missions.
Out of the 71 operations carried out so far, three missions under the U.N. Peacekeeping have seen the most significant number of Indian troop casualties. This week’s Data Point newsletter takes a deeper dive into these three missions — United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), The United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) and United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM).
United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF)
In 1956, escalating tensions between Egypt and Israel led to the collapse of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, which had ended the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Egypt’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company despite the protest from France and the U.K. triggered new hostilities. Israel attacked Egypt in October 1956, occupying Sinai and the Gaza Strip. British and French troops also entered the region. As the Security Council faced a deadlock due to vetoes of France and the U.K, the U.N. General Assembly held an emergency session in November, calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal of foreign forces. The first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was established to supervise the ceasefire. UNEF operated in Egypt focusing on the withdrawal of forces and maintaining peace along the Egypt-Israel border for the next 10 years.
Indian Air Force sends four Canberra bombers from the Indian Air Force for U.N. Duty in Congo on October 10, 1961 (U.N. Photo)
UNEF began operating in Egypt on 12 November 1956. Its operation was divided into four phases. In the first phase (mid-November to late December 1956) focus was on withdrawing the Anglo-French forces from the Port Said area. The second phase (December 1956 to March 1957) centred around the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Sinai peninsula. By late March, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the Sharm el Sheikh area was achieved. And finally, in the last phase, UNEF was deployed along the borders between Egypt and Israel to maintain peace in sensitive areas for more than 10 years.
According to the data, in 1957, there were 6,073 military personnel, along with international and local civilian staff. By the time of withdrawal in 1967, 3,378 military personnel, bolstered by international and local civilian staff, were present. During this period, out of the 160 U.N. peacekeepers who lost their lives, 27 were Indian. Among these, 13 were victims of malicious acts — two fatalities in 1957 and 11 in 1967.
In 1967, According to a story published in The Hindu on June 8, 1967, nine Indian soldiers were killed while 20 were missing in a deliberate and barbarous attack on Indian personnel employed under the auspices of the UNEF in Gaza.
The Indian Government protesting against the Israeli Government claimed that the attack on the Indian soldiers was callous, deliberate and unprovoked and demanded that the Israeli Government should pay adequate compensation to the families of the deceased and the injured personnel. On the same day, a discussion on ensuring the early evacuation of Indian troops ensued in the Indian Parliament amid the hostilities.
United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC)
Days after the Republic of the Congo, a former Belgium colony attained independence on 30 June 1960, disorder and chaos broke out. This prompted Belgium to send its troops to the Congo in the name of restoring law and order and protecting Belgian nationals, without the consent of the Congolese Government.
By 12 July 1960, the Congolese Government asked the United Nations for military assistance to protect the country against external aggression. The U.N. Security Council demanded that Belgium withdraw its troops from the Congo immediately. Further, the need for authorised military assistance led to the formation of the United Nations Operation in the Congo/ Opération des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC). Between 1960 to 1964, ONUC helped the Congolese Government in restoring and maintaining political independence, territorial integrity and law and order in the country.
The Force was especially strengthened early in 1961 after the assassination in the Katanga province of former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. At its peak in July 1961, 19,828 peacekeepers were deployed in Congo.
As per UN records, there were roughly 250 troop fatalities during the operation. Of these 39 were Indians, the second highest after Ghana (49) in terms of casualties. About 24 Indians were killed due to malicious acts.
An article published by The Hindu on November 24, 1960, describes in detail the Congolese soldiers’ attack on Indian officers. It explains how Indian officers like Major M. V. Gore and Major M. S. Kathavaty were taken out of their residences at bayonet points and severely injured using rifle butts. Colonel Harmandar Singh, Commander of the Indian Contingent was stopped by Congolese soldiers having submachine guns and was relieved of his car.
On the next day, the front page of The Hindu reported on the agitation of the MPs in the Lok Sabha over the news of the Congolese attack on Indian soldiers. Opposition members had presumed that the attack on the Indian personnel was the result of the anti-India feeling roused in the Congo by the Indian attitude towards President Kasavubu.
The withdrawal of the Peacekeepers from Congo began in February 1963, after Katanga had been reintegrated into the national territory of the Congo. According to an article by The Hindu, most Indian troops returned by the end of March 1963, with the then deputy defence minister D.R. Chavan recorded saying in the Lok Sabha that 36 Indian armed force personnel were killed during the mission.
The Force completely withdrew by 30 June 1964, with over 5,800 personnel, supported by international civilian and locally recruited staff returning to their countries.
United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM)
Following President Siad Barre’s downfall in 1991, Somalia plunged into a civil war between factions supporting Interim President Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aidid. The UN and other organizations intervened to resolve the conflict and provide humanitarian aid. The UN imposed an arms embargo in January 1992 and facilitated talks between the factions, leading to a ceasefire and the establishment of the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I) in April. However, ongoing fighting and insecurity hindered relief efforts, prompting the Security Council to deploy additional troops in August.
In November 1992, the U.S. offered to lead an operation, resulting in the establishment of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) comprising troops from 24 countries. In early 1993, Somali political movements agreed to a ceasefire and disarmament under UNITAF and UNOSOM supervision. Donors pledged over $130 million at an aid conference, and a reconciliation conference led to an accord on disarmament, reconstruction, and transitional government formation.
In March 1993, UNOSOM II, a new peacekeeping operation, replaced UNITAF with a mandate to secure a stable environment for aid delivery and assist in reconstruction. However, ceasefires were violated, and attacks on UNOSOM II soldiers and clashes with Somali militiamen continued. In October, 18 U.S. soldiers died in Mogadishu, prompting the US, Belgium, France, and Sweden to announce their withdrawal by early 1994.
Despite efforts of reconciliations, troop withdrawals, budget restrictions, and factional actions reduced UNOSOM II’s security capabilities, prompting the Security Council to approve force reductions.
As factions failed to comply with agreements, UNOSOM was extended for a final period, urging a ceasefire and the formation of a national unity government. However, no significant progress was made, leading to UNOSOM’s withdrawal in March 1995.
About 160 peacekeepers were killed in the Operation. Of these 40 soldiers were from Pakistan, 30 from the U.S. and 15 from India. Of the Indians, 12 were killed in malicious acts. On August 24th, 1994, The Hindu reported how the Indian soldiers of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia ended the hunt for the Somali killers who killed seven of their comrades. The next day the bodies of the fallen Indian soldiers were brought to Delhi.
- Only 6 religion options make it to the next Census form. Despite demands from several communities to be counted as a separate religion, the next Census will only count Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain as distinct religion options. Nature-worshipping Adivasis in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, and Odisha have been campaigning to include their Sarna faith as a separate religion, while Karnataka’s Lingayats have been making a similar demand.
- 19 Opposition parties, including Congress, to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building. Their primary objection is against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building by himself, “completely sidelining President Droupadi Murmu”, which the Opposition said was not only “a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy, which demands a commensurate response”.
- 6.80% is the drop in India’s unemployment rate for persons aged 15 years and above in urban areas in January-March 2023 compared to 8.2% a year ago, the National Sample Survey (NSSO) showed. Joblessness was high in January-March 2022, mainly due to the staggering impact of Covid-related restrictions in the country.
- 112.74 million tonnes is the estimated production of wheat in India for 2022-23, a new record in wheat production. The overall foodgrain output is likely to be a record 330.53 million tonnes in the July-June period of 2022-23, according to the Agriculture Ministry. Wheat production declined to 107.74 million tonnes due to heat waves in key growing states in the 2021-22 crop year.
- 1.38 lakh was the number of lives lost due to extreme weather-linked disasters in India in the last 50 years. Extreme weather and water-related events caused 573 disasters in India between 1970 and 2021, the World Meteorological Department, an agency of the United Nations reported. More than two million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses were recorded due to 11,778 disasters during this period.
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