Colombo, June 3: Bangladesh has been a long standing contributor to UN Peace Keeping missions across the globe kicking off their involvement way back in 1988.In the past thirty years, thousands of young Bangladeshi men and women have toiled abroad under difficult conditions and trying circumstances to win laurels from the UN authorities and kudos from grateful populations, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
Barring a few transgressions here and there, the Bengali peacekeepers had acquitted themselves as a decent force with a penchant for striking rapport with local populations,
According to the Bangladesh High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Riaz Hamidullah, the conduct of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers stems from their native culture nurtured over centuries.
“It is founded on an innate South Asian propensity to show compassion beyond the call of duty and to share what little one has with one’s fellow beings,” the envoy said.
He went on to give an example from a troubled and indigent African country in which the Bangladeshi peace keepers shared their rations with the starving population around their camps.
“It was all beyond the rule book. In another case of creative magnanimity, seeds of an edible plant which had been brought down from Bangladesh for the troops’ consumption, were distributed by the troops to the people around so that they could cultivate the crop. And the population did,” Hamidullah recalled.
“The Bangladeshi peace keepers not only maintain law and order but also sow the seeds of friendship,” he said.
Bangladeshi engineers serving with the UN mission in South Sudan are leading efforts to improve a 78-kilometre stretch of road between Gumbo and Mangalla, on the artery between Juba and Bor. The road connects local communities, allowing them to more easily bring goods to the market.
In the last three decades, as many as 150,647 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, from the armed forces and the police, have worked in 54 UN missions in 40 countries.
Of them, 135 have sacrificed their lives to establish peace, with more than 200 others suffering injuries.
Currently, some 7,636 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, comprising 6,636 from the armed forces and the rest from police, are working in UN missions, according to UN peacekeeping statistics up to August 31, 2017.
Bangladesh now accounts for 6.5% of the total UN peacekeeping force across the world.
According to available data 57 female members of the Bangladesh armed forces and 79 policewomen are deployed in UN missions overseas. Two Bangladeshi women Air Force pilots had flown choppers in Africa.
It was in 2000 that Bangladesh first deployed female peacekeepers. Since then, a total of 1,008 female peacekeepers from the police department had been sent on different missions. In 2010, Bangladesh deployed the first all-female peacekeeping unit in Haiti.
In 2017, Bangladesh sent two female combat pilots to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Flight Lieutenant Nayma Haque and Flight Lieutenant Tamanna-E-Lutfi.
Deputy Inspector General Mili Biswas, who was among the first five female Bangladeshi peacekeepers, told Dhaka Tribune: “I was in East Timor for a year. But the start was not so easy for us. We had to come across an adverse environment. East Timor was a completely destroyed country. There was neither water, nor gas or even electricity. We had to face it all. ”
During the mission, Mili was the only female commander out of 41 contingents from various.
Bangladeshi troops have had to take casualties. Recently, three of them were killed, and four injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion in Mali.
During the politico-military standoff in the 2010 elections in Ivory Coast, about 120 Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers were deployed at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan for five months. The Bangladeshi contingent was protecting political leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara who was fighting a grim battle with his rival, Laurent Gbagbom who had declared himself the winner of an election.
The UN had reported intense fighting in Abidjan in early April 2010 between the forces loyal to President Ouattara and elements of the former Republican Guard and Special Forces who were loyal to Gbagbo.
Amidst gunfire, a Bangladeshi army doctor named Shumon was shot and had to be flown out of the country. Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Saidur Rahman was afflicted by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and died.
But sacrifices brought in their train gratitude in abundance from the locals. Bengali was reportedly declared an “official language” in Sierra Leone. A road was named after the Bangladesh peacekeepers.
The Bangladeshi contingent in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, successfully conducted a referendum organized by the UN over independence.
Lauding their work in Liberia, its President Ellen Sirleaf said: “The Bangladeshi contingent has gone beyond its protection mandate and helped build up the manpower capacity of the country.”
Indeed ,the Bangladesh peacekeepers have built and repaired roads and attended to the medical needs of the poor local populations.
According to the Inter Service Public Relations Directorate (ISPR), Central African Republic was one of the toughest countries to operate in.
Bangladeshi peacekeepers faced difficulties in UN missions in Mali and South Sudan, the ISPR added. When asked about allegations of sexual abuse against the peacekeepers, especially in Africa, the ISPR said Bangladesh armed forces have adopted a “Zero Tolerance Policy” in regard to sexual misconduct.
“Bangladeshi contingent members committing any offence of this nature are subjected to disciplinary action by the contingent commander under the concerned service’s Act and the rules made there under,” the ISPR added.
There are a total of over 100,000 UN peacekeeping personal – consisting of 91,132 troops, 13,563 police and 1,811 military experts from 123 countries.
From Asia, India is the single largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping force, followed by Pakistan and then Bangladesh. China’s troop contribution has increased over the last many years and it is the 12th largest provider of troops in the world and sixth highest in Asia. Mongolia contributes 950 troops for UN peacekeeping mission.
Japan’s contribution to peacekeeping has diminished over a period of time. It contributes a handful of personnel for UN missions.
Compared to its neighbours Sri Lanka remains an outlier in terms of troop contribution to the UN. Bhutan, Australia, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar together contribute just hundred and forty personnel to the peace keeping missions of the UN according to DataLEADS/ Asia News Network
(The featured image at the top shows two Bangladeshi female combat pilots to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Flight Lieutenant Nayma Haque and Flight Lieutenant Tamanna-E-Lutfi.Photo:UN)