By Dhruv C Katoch
India’s contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping efforts have been significant. Today, India is one of the major contributors of personnel to UN peace keeping missions across the world. As of January 31, 2017, 126 countries have contributed a total of 100,231 peacekeepers. Of this, the Indian contribution is 7,762 peacekeepers deployed in various missions, of which 6,807 are military troops, 62 are military experts and 893 are police personnel. This forms the second largest contribution to the UN body for peacekeeping operations and is exceeded only by Ethiopia which has contributed 8301 personnel.
India’s contributions to peacekeeping missions during the Cold War remained limited to just one engagement in the Congo between 1960 and 1964, where India contributed a brigade group to ONUC (Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo). This Indian contingent did yeoman service in bringing peace to the region. In the process, it suffered 147 casualties, among whom was Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, who was awarded India’s highest military award for courage, the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously.
Post the Cold War, Indian contribution to the UN peacekeeping effort increased substantially. To a large extent, especially in Asia, India’s involvement was largely dictated by geo-strategic interests and concerns—its quest for energy security and regional stability and international order providing the impetus for sending peacekeepers to the Middle East and to East and Southeast Asia. In Africa, however, the rational for involvement in peace keeping operations (PKOs) was based more on humanitarian considerations rather than in serving any strategic purpose. India has contributed substantially to UN PKOs in Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Western Sahara. Presently, its keepers are deployed in Western Sahara, Liberia, Ivory coast, Abyei, South Sudan and Congo.
Indian Peacekeepers in Africa
In the currently highly volatile situation in Sudan, India has provided military and police personnel to both UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), and to UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). It has also sent its military personnel to Abyei, as part of UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). In all these areas, the Indian contribution consists of two infantry battalion groups, sector HQ, engineer company, signal company, level-II Hospital and a large number of military observers and staff officers (SOs), all of whom are providing yeoman service in various fields. India moved back to the Congo after its initial engagement in the middle of the last century, this time as part of MONUC (UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo). Since 2005, under Extended Chapter VII mandate, India provided an augmented infantry brigade group to include a level III hospital, helicopters, military observers and police personnel as part of MONUSCO. It has also deployed a large number of police personnel. India remains deployed in Liberia as part of UNMIL and has military personnel deployed in Western Sahara, as part of United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). It supports the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI - United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire), through deployment of staff officers and military observers.
As Indian forces are respected the world over for their peace keeping skills, India could use this goodwill generated to leverage and further improve its standing in Africa. Through PKOs, goodwill generated can transform into economic dividends which could be beneficial to both India and the various states of Africa. While India has given assistance to the UN’s peacekeeping efforts throughout the world and made substantive contributions in Africa’s zones of insecurity over a long period, future deployments would not be wholly altruistic and would reflect both Indian concerns in the region and a desire to seek an equilibrium between historical and altruistic factors on one hand, and assertive, dividend-seeking foreign policy elements on the other. As India become more involved in African development, it would look at strategic objectives linked to political goals of India’s foreign policy, coupled with the imperatives of sustaining and expanding economic growth amidst high external resource dependence. While India’s visibility in Africa is increasing, it is still a far cry from the visibility enjoyed by China. The quality of its peacekeepers provides India an opportunity to exploit its soft power, and use both goodwill and economic arguments to seek a greater role for itself in the region.
Maj Gen. Dhruv C Katoch is presently Director, India Foundation. He is also the Editor of SALUTE Magazine.