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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Your war, our soldiers!

The recent request of the UN Secretariat in New York to our outgoing government in Kathmandu to dispatch more Nepali Army to the war-ridden state of South Sudan deserves serious consideration before decision.

 At a time when most Western countries are trying their best to evacuate their citizens from South Sudan, it would be ridiculous for us to send our troops.

We cannot let our soldiers act as a buffer between conflicting parties simply because our presence in the UN peacekeeping forces has been a matter of glory since 1958, when the Nepali peacekeepers were first deployed to Lebanon.

The contribution of Nepal to all UN endeavors, including Peacekeeping, is well documented and appreciated by the rest of the world. As of December 2013, Nepal has already contributed over 100,000 soldiers to more than three dozen UN missions across the globe.

Even at present, Nepal ranks within the top ten contributors of soldiers to UN missions. According to Nepal Army, 59 army personnel have deceased and 58 have been disabled in UN peacekeeping missions. The death toll in more than half century of Nepal’s engagement to UN Peacekeeping may sound little to an ordinary Nepali who is used to hearing the massive death toll of Nepal’s internal conflict. But the number in fact is a huge one, given that we lost these soldiers in wars we neither caused nor benefited from.

The Peacekeeping function of the UN, which was never directly mentioned in the UN charter, has become an important arm of UN in fulfilling its purpose of international peace and security. It has a high degree of success in many countries like Cambodia, Guatemala or Namibia. For most poor countries like Nepal, UN Peacekeeping is also a major platform to show their international presence.

In fact, most policymakers of poor countries are lured by the huge amount of money that the blue helmeted army gets in comparison to his/her national salary. Nepal is no exception. But there is another less celebrated aspect of UN peacekeeping that we should be aware of before cheering for possible engagement with it.

First, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to a country is already an indication that the conflict has escaped the control of national armies (as in South Sudan). So, the conflict site is always more dangerous than expected by peacekeepers.

Second, UN peacekeeping itself is not clear in its mandate. The end goal of every operation is to get peace, but the means is bizarre. For instance, UN peacekeepers are not allowed to use weapons except in self-defense.

That means if two parties are firing at each other leading to carnage on both sides, ideally peacekeepers will not use arms until they themselves are attacked.

 In Bosnian War, the UN peacekeepers are still blamed for not acting when Serbian troops were killing Bosnians in 1995, because they were not authorized to act for or against any conflicting group. The failure of UN peacekeeping to prevent genocide in Rwanda (1994) is another example of the same.

The third thing is regarding deployment in a war the context of which is rarely known to the peacekeepers. The national armies of countries are always ready to fight, for territory and against terrorists.

 But once deployed to UN missions after a short pre-deployment training, they have to remain strictly impartial and obey international codes of war. Even a small deviation from these norms may be punished by International Criminal Laws as well as the national laws of the mother state.

All these problems of peacekeeping are applicable to the Nepali soldiers deployed in UN mission in South Sudan. It has become an unwritten rule that in UN peacekeeping missions, developed countries can fulfill their responsibility by paying for the financial needs of the mission, whereas least developed countries like Nepal send their troops, who they frequently lose.

Even in South Sudan, seven Indian soldiers have recently lost their lives and four Nepali soldiers have been injured. Despite the heavy loss, India is not backing out, since it enjoys business ties with the oil-rich state of South Sudan. But for Nepal, it is a completely futile war.

Two years of post independence experience in South Sudan shows that the state was declared independent when it was not ready to be self-governed peacefully. The world is witness to the US strongly backing the Christian-dominated southern region after Chinese influence began growing in the undivided state of Sudan.

But as the conflict is escalating beyond control, the US President, instead of being concerned about the thousands of death of Sudanese, is just concerned with “actions to support the security of US citizens, personnel and property including their Embassy.”

So when the powerful state that assumes the ‘global responsibility’ to maintain peace and order is concerned only about its citizens, aren’t we trying to become unnecessarily brave by sending more troops to the war-zone? Nepal as a responsible member of United Nations has already extended its best assistance by providing more than 800 soldiers to South Sudan; it’s time to let the rest of the world fulfill its responsibility to the state of South Sudan.


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