Islamabad : The contribution of Pakistan in the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia, which marks its 25 years this year, should be explored and documented to promote goodwill and to draw lessons for further sharpening the idea of peacekeeping.
These thoughts were expressed in remembrance conversations at a ceremony organised by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in honour of the sacrifices of the peacemaking soldiers in Somalia from 1993 to 1995. The ceremony paid rich tributes to the participation of Pakistan and Italy in the mission.
Participants recalled that much of the public imagination of the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia often evokes western documentaries and movies made on the US’s involvement in that mission, especially in a battle in capital Mogadishu. While the US has documented its history, no matter how contested, other countries including Pakistan have done little to that end; this, despite Pakistan’s critical involvement in that mission: for one, Pakistani soldiers went in the end to rescue Americans in the battle.
The UN mission in Somalia continued in multiple phases, witnessing a range of incidents. PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana recalled that it was “not an ordinary mission;” it was more than mere stationing of the troops, and involved direct combat including Pakistani and Italians.
The sacrifices of Pakistanis are worth noting. In June 1993, Pakistani soldiers were attacked by rebels from all sides During this attack, a veteran Colonel Waziri recalled, 23 Pakistanis laid down their lives, 52 were wounded, while 17 faced disabilities.
Somali Ambassador Khadija Al-Makhzoomi paid gratitude to the fallen soldiers of Pakistan, saying Pakistan was the first country that sent troops to Somalia. Meanwhile, Italian ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo said, the mission itself serves as a great example of Pakistan-Italy relations. When the Pakistani troops were surrounded, the Italian troops had come to know about the situation, rescuing the remaining. A one-minute silence was observed for those who laid down their lives.
Lieutenant General (r) Masood Aslam recalled that the context in which the forces were sent to Somalia entailed other missions with fewer rebels in mind; these include Congo, Liberia, among others. But Somalia was altogether different, with at least 30 factions present there. One Italian participant added that “tribal” dimension in Somalian rebel dynamics was not assessed then. Yet, the peacekeeping forces went with limited resources. On ground too, veterans recalled they had never imagined anyone taking arms against them. “We rarely used [UN’s] blue helmet; we mostly used the blue cap,” one veteran said. And yet the incident occurred.