Pakistan’s Role in UN Peacekeeping

UN peacekeeping operations is an essential tenet of Pakistan’s foreign policy. It reflects the country’s willingness to undertake international obligations as a responsible member state of the UNO. Pakistan became a member of this world body on 30 September 1947, barely a month after it became independent. On the eve of the partition of India, a revolt broke out in the predominantly Muslim princely state of Kashmir against the Dogra Maharaja. On 27 October, Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Their mission was to stop the Pashtun tribesmen from assisting the Muslims of the Valley in their struggle for freedom from the repressive rule of the Maharaja. In January 1948, India took the issue of Kashmir to the UN. On 17 January, UN Security Council Resolution 37 was passed, asking both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and to control the worsening situation in Kashmir. In April 1947, UN Security Council Resolution 47 called for a free and free plebiscite in Kashmir to let the people decide their own destiny. Meanwhile, the first group of UN military observers arrived in the mission area on 24 January of 1949 to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. These observers, under the command of the Military Adviser appointed by the UN Secretary-General, formed the nucleus of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Thus, Pakistan became among one of the first countries to host a UN Mission.

In 1950, Pakistan opted not become part of the UN forces in Korea under the command of US General Douglas MacArthur. In the absence of any security guarantees, it was considered premature to commit troops overseas. It was a good decision because it would have pitted Pakistan against the People’s Republic of China. The two countries have a staunch relationship based on decades of shared interests.

Pakistan first became part of a peacekeeping operation in Congo in August 1960. The 400 peacekeepers included members of the Ordnance and Army Services Corps and those on staff appointments. The transport to the mission area and within the mission area was the responsibility of the Pakistani logisticians. Pakistan Navy also participated in ferrying across the peacekeepers. The Pakistani troops remained in the mission area until May 1964.

On 1st of October 1961, UN Security Force (UNSF) was ordered to deploy in New Guinea. Their mandate was to oversee the peaceful handover of West Irian from the Netherland to Indonesia in anticipation of a plebiscite. Pakistan was given the exclusive responsibility of UN Temporary Executive Authority to maintain law and order. A composite task force comprising 14 Punjab Regiment and 2 companies of 18 Punjab Regiment along with supporting elements disembarked on the coast of Sorong after covering 6000 miles of sea journey. Their area of responsibility covered hundreds of miles. The Pakistani troops remained in New Guinea till April 1963. During their watch, they were able to prevent clashes among the warring parties and saw to it that the Dutch withdrew in an orderly manner. The Pakistani deployment was appreciated by the Indonesians and became the basis of friendly ties between the two countries.

Pakistan’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations declined after the 1960s but picked up at the end of the Cold War. This period saw heightened peacekeeping activity as the US emerged as the sole superpower in the world. Pakistan at that time was experiencing international isolation as its position as the frontline ally of the US ended with the Afghan jihad and the defeat of the Soviet Union. International peacekeeping provided Pakistan with an opportunity to keep itself relevant. Some of these were simple missions and others were highly complex involving great risk to the life and limb of the peacekeepers. From April 1989 to March 1990 Pakistan provided military observers as part of the UN Transition Assistance Group or UNTAG. This group ensured free and fair elections as a prelude to the independence of Namibia from South Africa. In December 1991, Pakistani peacekeepers became part of the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). This mission was entrusted with the task of sanitizing and rehabilitating war-ravaged Kuwait. Their duties included potentially hazardous activities such as demining and making the huge stockpiles abandoned of ammunition and explosives ineffective. The operation was carried out by a task force of Pakistan Army Engineers belonging to Frontier Works Organization (FWO). They were assigned the most difficult area in the north of Kuwait City spread over 3000 square kilometres. Subsequently, they were also tasked to reclaim the Bubiyan Island also. Over a thousand troops and civilians participated in this mission. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

In 1992, Pakistan sent troops for peacekeeping missions in Africa, Asia, America, and Europe. Each mission came with its own set of challenges. Somalia in the strategic Horn of Africa was in the throes of civil war and warlords were fighting among themselves for scarce resources. The situation had been compounded due to famine and drought. Pakistan was the first country to respond to the call for troops to supervise the humanitarian mission to Somalia. The mission in Somalia lasted from March 1992 to February 1996. On 14 September 1992, the first batch of five hundred Pakistani troops belonging to the Elite-7 Frontier Force Regiment landed in the battle-scarred capital Mogadishu. Their task was to prevent bandits from looting food supplies and ensure its safe delivery to the hungry population. Deployment of the security force was preceded by the arrival of an advance party of 50 UN observers sent to monitor a truce among parties to the conflict. The mission changed names from UN operations in Somalia-I (UNOSOM I) to UNOSOM-II, as its mandate changed from Chapter 6 to Chapter 7. Overall, 7200 troops participated in the peacekeeping operations in Somalia. There were 39 casualties, 24 troops were killed in action on the 5th of June 1993. Despite this heavy loss, Pakistani troops continued to participate in this mission until the very end and were the last to withdraw. This was quite in contrast to the Americans, who quickly withdrew after the loss of 18 Marines on October 3, 1993, during the famous Black Hawk down Operation. Incidentally, it was Pakistani troops, who rescued the beleaguered American Marines from the mean streets of Mogadishu.

The mission to Bosnia had a strong appeal for the people of Pakistan. A Muslim country that was being ethnically cleansed and where rape was being used a weapon of war and Pakistan wanted to play a meaningful role. The UN Protection Forces in Bosnia (UNPROFOR) lasted from March 1992 to February 1996. Pakistani contingent consisted of two Battalion Groups and a National Support (NS) Headquarters for Bosnia and Croatia. 3000 troops served on this mission, 6 of whom lost their lives. They won the undying gratitude of the people of Bosnia for saving lives of innocent lives by risking their own lives.

The killing fields of Cambodia attracted international attention. UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was established order in the war-ravaged country. The UNTAC operated from March 1992 to November 1993. 1106 Pakistani peacekeepers served on this mission. 2nd Battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment formed part of a force of 15900 personnel from 32 countries. The peacekeepers in Cambodia supervised the withdrawal of all foreign forces and cease-fire, disarmament, and demobilization of the warring factions. Pakistani peacekeepers also served on the staff and participated in mine clearance. There were no casualties on this dangerous mission.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established by UN Security Council Resolution 690 of 29 April 1991 in accordance with settlement proposals accepted on 30 August 1988 by Morocco and the Frente Popular para la liberación de agua el-Hamra y de río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO). Pakistani observers participated with distinction on this mission.

UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) was formed after the 1991 coup and military rule in the Caribbean nation of Haiti. It lasted from 1993 to 1996. Pakistan provided one Infantry battalion for this mission. The battalion arrived in Haiti in March 1995 and was deployed in Cap-Haïtien. There, the security situation was extremely volatile and there was a great deal of political unrest in the country. To instil confidence in the local populace, the Pakistani peacekeepers began an extensive patrolling program covering north, northeast, and central regions. This not only ensured a return to normality, but it also established a cordial relationship between the local population. The presence of the peacekeepers gave confidence to the Haitian National Police and other government functionaries, which led to a degree of stability and cooperation in the region. The Pakistani battalion also played a significant role in holding free and fair elections in the northern reaches of Haiti. It also participated in humanitarian assistance and was fully involved in food distribution among impoverished people of Haiti. The Pakistani peacekeepers also shared their surplus rations with the local population and earned a great deal of goodwill. To overcome, the scarcity of potable water, the Pakistani peacekeepers surveyed the areas, where a well could be sunk and helped with the repair and installation of water pumps in remote areas. Water bottles and biscuits were supplied to an orphanage. In recognition of their efforts, the orphanage’s school was named Pakistan School. Seven military observers also participated in the mission and there were no casualties on this mission.

UN assistance mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was established to help implement the Arusha Peace Agreement signed by the Rwandese parties on 4 August 1993. UNAMIR mandate and strength were adjusted to face of the tragic events of the genocide and the changing situation in the country. UNAMIR’s mandate came to an end on 8 March 1996. Seasoned Pakistani diplomat Ambassador Shaharyar M. Khan as the special representative of the secretary-general and head of mission supervised the mission. After the closure of UNAMIR, Mr. Khan continued as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative through April 1996.

Established to assist the Government of Angola and the União Nacional para an Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) in restoring peace and achieving national reconciliation on the basis of the Peace Accords for Angola, signed on 31 May 1991, the Lusaka Protocol signed on 20 November 1994, and relevant Security Council resolutions. 14 military observers participated in the UN mission in Angola from February 1995 to June 1997. There were no casualties on this mission.

After the Demilitarization Agreement signed between the Croatian Government and the Serb representatives in November 1995 at Erdut, the UN was asked to take steps for the implementation of the agreement in war-ravaged areas of Eastern Slavonia, Baranya and western Sirmium within a period of thirty days. UN transitional authority in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) remained operational from May 1996 – August 1997. A 1000-soldier strong, Pakistan army Contingent joined UNTAES in the first week of May 96 and assumed its duties on 18 May 96 after relieving Belgian troops.

UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) (October 1999 to December 2005) was a success story. During the mission the UN Security Council approved several requests of military assistance which drew to a final force of 17,500 military personnel, including the 260 military observers, the Council took this decision by its resolution 1346, and, by the same resolution, approved a revised concept of operations. Pakistan being the largest contributor to this mission sent a composite force of three Battalion Groups and one engineer battalion. Lt Gen. Sajjad Akram of Pakistan Army served as the Force Commander and Chief Military Observer from October 2003 to September 2005. In all, 5000 troops participated in this mission. Six men lost their lives while serving on this mission.

Approximately 5000 Pakistani women and men currently serve in seven UN operations. A vast majority deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Darfur region of Sudan and the Central African Republics (CAR). Pakistan’s participation in peacekeeping operations has involved not only soldiers but also police, civilian volunteers, and diplomats. Shahzadi Gulfam a police officer was awarded a medal for her performance in the UN peacekeeping operations in East Timor. Pakistan is currently working to increase the gender balance by sending more female peacekeepers. A particularly important feature is the deployment of the Female Engagement Team in DRC in 2019. This team has won high praise for responding to the vulnerable segments of the society in a war zone such as women and children. Female military observers and those on the staff have earned praise for their expertise and competence. UN peacekeeping is part of Pakistan’s military diplomacy. It showcases the professionalism of its first-rate army and presents its soft image to the world. It has not only won hearts and minds in remote areas of the world; it has enhanced its image a peace-loving country.

Pakistan attaches a lot of importance to the training to the training of the peacekeepers. The Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) provides training to Pakistani and foreign peacekeepers. This is the only institution of its kind located in a University. Established in 2013 in the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) was inaugurated by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. In February 2020, the current secretary-general Antonio Guterres visited CIPS, praised the Pakistani peacekeepers for their courage, dedication, and acknowledged their sacrifices. 157 men and women have laid down their lives in the service of humanity so far. Pakistan is proud of its peacekeepers.


Box 1: Guiding Principles for Pakistan’s Foreign policy from the webpage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General, in a broadcast talk to the people of the USA in February 1948, outlined the following goals of Pakistan’s foreign policy:

“Our foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We do not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the principle of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings and are prepared to make our utmost contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world. Pakistan will never be found lacking in extending its material and moral support to the oppressed and suppressed peoples of the world, and in upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter.”

The Constitution of Pakistan also lays down guidelines for the conduct of the foreign policy of the country. Article 40 of the constitution provides that: “The State shall endeavour to preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic unity, support the common interests of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, promote international peace and security, foster goodwill and friendly relations among all nations and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.”

The foreign policy of Pakistan is primarily directed to the pursuit of national goals of seeking peace and stability through international cooperation. Special emphasis is laid on economic diplomacy to take advantages offered by the process of globalization as also to face challenges of the 21st century. Our foreign policy is also geared to project the image of the country as a dynamic and moderate society.

The foreign policy of Pakistan seeks to promote the internationally recognized norms of interstate relations, i.e. respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all States, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, non-aggression and peaceful settlement of disputes. Pakistan has therefore always sought to develop friendly and cordial relations with all countries of the world.


Box 2: UN Secretary Generals Praise Pakistani Peacekeepers

“I have personally met brave Pakistani men and women who served proudly in some of our toughest missions around the world. They are truly an inspiration. Pakistan provides essential “boots on the ground” and also “Brains on the issues”. As a Secretary-General, I can count on Pakistan to help our missions. The United Nations is deeply grateful for their contributions. Pakistan’s historic commitments to peacekeeping have taken a heavy toll. 132 Pakistanis have lost their lives while serving the UN. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – 21st Jan 2013

“Pakistan is among the top contributors to UN Peacekeeping. It was inspiring to meet some of the brave women and men who are serving for peace around the world. Thank you for your service and sacrifice!

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweet praising Pakistani peacekeepers during his visit to Pakistan (18 February 2020)


Box 3: Words of appreciation for the Pakistani peacekeepers from heads of states and leading UN officials

Premier Zhou En Lai on the performance of Pakistani peacekeepers in West Irian: “The only example in UN history, when a UN Military Force had gone in, performed its role honestly and came out was Pakistan’s Military contingent in Indonesia (West Irian).”

Indonesian President Sukarno also acknowledged the services of Pakistan Army peacekeepers by saying: “It was because of Pakistani troops that Indonesia and Pakistan came close together, they were Pakistan’s best ambassadors.”

Major General Thomas M. Montgomery, Deputy Commander UN Forces in Somalia acknowledged the bravery of the Pakistani soldiers in rescuing US Marines on 3rd October 1993 operation: “Many of the soldiers are alive today because of the willingness and skill of the Pakistani soldiers who worked jointly in a rescue operation. We are thankful to the people and army of Pakistan for sending such splendid soldiers to Somalia whom we feel proud to serve with. Pakistani soldiers have been completely dependable even in the most difficult circumstances. They have shouldered a huge and dangerous load of UNOSOM and the Somali people.”

Paul Klein, Transitional Administrator UN for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) from 17 January 1996 to 1 August 1997 appreciated the Pakistani peacekeepers: “I wish to reaffirm my gratitude and appreciation for the professionalism, the Pakistani contingent has displayed during the stay in Eastern Slavonia. They are indeed performing great services to humanity.”

Lakhdar Brahimi, Algerian diplomat serving as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Haiti: “It gives me great pleasure to express my warmest congratulation and sincere admiration for the splendid work the officers and men of Pakistani battalion have done all over Haiti.”

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About Professor Dr. Tughral Yamin 1 Article
Associate Dean Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) at NUST, and Author of three books including “UN Peacekeeping Operations in Somalia: A Pakistani Perspective”