Pakistan recently commemorated the golden jubilee of its contribution to the UN peacekeeping operations when the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, inaugurated a photo exhibition projecting Pakistani peacekeepers role in the UNs peace missions at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, PNCA, in Islamabad.
Its journey to support the UN international peacekeeping efforts commenced with its first military contingent to Congo in 1960.
Since then it has participated in 41 UN peacekeeping missions in some of the most dangerous conflict zones like Bosnia, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, Cambodia and East Timor.
Since 2006, Pakistan has made the largest troop contribution to UN peace initiatives and deployed so far 130,000 peacekeepers from Far East Asia to Central America.
Currently, around 10,000 plus Pakistani peacekeepers, including female doctors, remain committed in different UN missions across three continents (Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sudan, including Darfur, Western Sahara, East Timor and Haiti).
Over 200 military observers/staff officers were also deputed to many UN missions worldwide.
Pakistan earned international recognition in its very second UN mission, when 1,500 Pakistani troops were part of the UN Security Force in New Guinea (West Irian) in 1962-63.
The late Chinese Premier Chou En-Lais tribute is still remembered: The only example in UN history, when a UN military force had gone in, performed its role honestly and came out was Pakistans military contingent in West Irian.
The UN mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) is considered a major UN success story.
It was created by the United Nations Security Council in October 1999 to help with the implementation of the Lom Peace Accord, an agreement intended to end the Sierra Leonean civil war.
It concluded its mandate at the end of 2005, when the Security Council declared that its mission was complete.
Pakistan contributed 13,656 peacekeepers, who played a critical role in stabilising the post-civil war security situation, reconstruction of destroyed civic facilities, including places of worship and rehabilitation of the affected population in Sierra Leone.
Overall 26 Pakistani troops died in the service of peace in Sierra Leone, including 14 Pakistanis in a UN helicopter crash in a jungle on June 30, 2004.
The US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Mr Peter Chaveas, acknowledged the Pakistani peacekeepers role in these words: Once again you are showing us the highest standards.
The Pakistan Army in Sierra Leone has shown the world how peacekeeping should be done.
So, why are Pakistani military officers and soldiers in great demand for UN peacekeeping operations? The answer lies in their professionalism, discipline, integrity and commitment to the UN peacekeeping objectives.
Our peacekeepers have served the cause of peace by winning the hearts and minds of the traumatised locals through humanitarian and rebuilding efforts and providing security in the most challenging environments.
The Pakistan Army contingents drawn from the fighting and supporting arms and services have directed their efforts and resources towards the reconstruction of destroyed civic infrastructure, including roads and bridges, as well as setting up field hospitals, schools, skill training centres and recreational facilities to restore normalcy in the lives of the impoverished and violence hit people.
Pakistan Army Aviation operated Cobra attack helicopters in Somalia, as well as Puma/MI-17 helicopters in Sierra Leone, Burundi and Sudan in support of peacekeeping missions.
From disarming rebels in Burundi , to building soccer field in Sierra Leone, teaching Liberians on sewing machines, treating sick infants and women in maternity wards in Ivory Coast, teaching Cambodian school children, supervising elections under 'Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti and distributing their own rations amongst the poor Sudanese, the Pakistani peacekeepers remain the countrys best ambassadors.
While UN missions are professionally rewarding it is the sense of achievement for serving humanity and representing your country that remains the prime motivation for our troops to excel, even so far away from their homes.
It is well known that these peacekeeping missions also expose troops to attacks from warring militant groups, hostile social environment, adverse weather conditions and health hazards.
Many still recall the tragic episode that occurred on June 5, 1993, in Somalia.
While on a weapons storage site inspection and food distribution programme in warlord Mohammad Farrah Aidids stronghold, five groups of Pakistani peacekeepers were attacked by the militants, who used women and children present as shields.
Taken by surprise and exposed, the courageous blue berets fought back ensuring that the women and children remained unharmed during which 23 Pakistani soldiers lost their lives, while 56 sustained injuries.
In a daring night long operation on October 3, 1993, a joint force of Pakistani tanks and Malaysian Armoured Personnel Carriers, on request by the US Commander, fought their way to rescue 75 stranded US rangers surrounded by Aidids militants, after two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in central Mogadishu.
This action has been immortalised in the book and movie titled Black Hawk Down.
Major General Thomas M.
Montgomery, Deputy Commander of the United Nations Forces in Somalia in a television interview stated: "Many of the soldiers are alive today because of the willingness and skill of the Pakistani soldiers, who worked jointly in a rescue operation with Malaysian and American soldiers in most difficult and dangerous combat circumstances.
" Let us also not forget the outstanding services of over 700 Pakistani police personnel, including many female police officers, who were deployed in UN missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, East Timor, Sudan and Sierra Leone since 2001.
Over 1,100 civil armed forces personnel also served in UN missions in Kosovo, Haiti, East Timor and Ivory Coast.
As signatory of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on UNSAS (UN Standby Arrangement System) concluded in 1999, Pakistan has pledged a Brigade Group size force, including air force and navy assets for UN peacekeeping missions.
To undertake capacity building for future UN peace assignments at short notice, Pakistan Army is establishing 'Ware Houses with sufficient stocks of equipment and stores to equip a Brigade group plus size force.
The idea of setting up a Peacekeeping Centre in Pakistan to train peacekeepers for UN missions merits consideration.
The United Nations awards medals to peacekeepers from all nations, including Pakistan, for participating in a particular UN mission.
It will be befitting if the Government of Pakistan dedicates a memorial to honour the 126 Pakistani peacekeepers (10.
24 percent of total UN fatalities), who laid down their lives as well as all other Pakistanis who contributed in the noble cause of serving humanity, restoring peace and stability in many war-torn and conflict-ridden countries across the globe.
The writer is a retired brigadier and defence analyst Email: fhkhan54@gmail.
com