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Darfur and enhancing India’s peacekeeping profile

Ali Ahmed was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • June 07, 2010

    India had earlier wisely not been proactive in the Darfur crisis, even though it has deployed a brigade in peacekeeping in South Sudan with the UNMIS. Its position on Darfur has been influenced by the fact that the crisis could be characterised as an internal one; that there was a geopolitical angle in the Bush years centred not only on US containment of Islamists then, but also of China; wider Indian interests in the Arab world and in Africa; and lastly, India’s commercial interests in newly discovered oil in Sudan.

    However, in the event, Sudan, after much persuasion, has consented to the transition of the earlier African Union peacekeeping force to a ‘hybrid’ UN-AU mission, UNAMID. The mission has been operational in its present form since January 1, 2008, though the conflict has raged since February 2003 and the AU Mission in Sudan dates to 2004. The mission currently faces challenges with implications for its future. This article uses Darfur as an entry point to discussing an expanded UN peacekeeping role for India. It first takes a look at doctrinal developments in peacekeeping and then a closer look at the mission in Darfur. It concludes with suggestions on enhancing India’s peacekeeping profile.

    As well known, traditional peacekeeping was overtaken by the consensus that developed in the UN as the Cold War drew to a close. The UN was increasingly relied on to mellow the fallout of the withdrawal of the Cold War from across the globe. Missions became complex, more militarised even as the political, human rights and humanitarian angles increased. However, early activism and resulting overstretch met with a doctrinal challenge in the problems faced by the missions in Somalia and Bosnia.

    The doctrinal innovation of the period finds reflection in the Secretary General’s Agenda for Peace of 1994 and its Supplement. He had identified the conceptual framework that remains valid today. Peacekeeping conceptually expanded to include activities such as preventive diplomacy, preventive deployment, peacemaking, wider peacekeeping and peace building. The next major overhaul institutionally and conceptually found reflection in the Brahimi Report issued at the turn of the century. The basic feature of multidimensional operations that the report addressed was, in its words, “United Nations military units must be capable of defending themselves, other mission components and the mission’s mandate. Rules of engagement should be sufficiently robust and not force United Nations contingents to cede the initiative to their attackers.” This was essentially ‘robust’ peacekeeping, even if the means to undertake the same have not kept pace.

    Progress in this century has largely been in institutionalising change through organisational changes in the UN Secretariat and system. For instance, DPKO has a counterpart in the Department of Field Support. Three landmark efforts require mention, namely the mid-decade paper on Peace Operations 2010: the Capstone Document, which makes for a comprehensive round up; and lastly, the current non-paper A New Partnership Agenda, for charting the course up to the horizon. The issue of late has been how to fulfil the ‘responsibility to protect’ and to end the culture of ‘impunity’.

    The brief survey of developments in peacekeeping can now be situated in the field mission as obtains in Darfur. The mission has largely drawn on African peacekeepers. It covers the western portion of Sudan comprising three Darfur provinces, where reportedly 300,000 people had perished and two million were displaced. Its major focus is reaching humanitarian assistance to over two million people. It is only now drawing up to its sanctioned strength. The mission is also expected to address the agreement between Chad and Sudan at Dakar on jointly ending trans-border violations by non-state actors aided by the other.

    However, the political aspect of the mission centres on getting the rivals to implement agreements made earlier, including the main Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006 and that arrived at earlier this year in Doha. An added dimension has been the progress in the International Criminal Court on the notice of the Security Council regarding the culpability of Sudan’s head of state, Bashir. The Appeals Court has asked for consideration of the charge of ‘genocide’ in the Pre-Trial Court’s verdict which had only accepted lesser charges brought by the Prosecutor of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    What is the future direction of the mission? Two major issues affect the mission. Firstly, as mentioned the progress of the case against Bashir could result in Sudan rethinking its consent for the mission. It has already expressed its anger by ordering several western NGOs to leave. Secondly, the developments in South Sudan after holding of the referendum on separate statehood have portents. In case, as expected, the verdict is for a separate state, there could be repercussions in Darfur. This could be either in case of an unstable aftermath in which Sudan tries to retain control, or in case of successful secession then in terms of ‘demonstration effect’. Presently, the tribes in Darfur want autonomy, wealth and power sharing. They may be emboldened in case of a weakened centre. However, the oil revenues that Sudan now has could be used to retain their allegiance in case these are distributed with wisdom.

    What could be India’s role? India has been on the frontline both in UNMIS and MONUC. This indicates that it is not averse to a greater African engagement. The UNAMID offers a similar opportunity for India. India could consider sending troops to the mission, given that Sudan has accepted the mission. Indian troops, known for their skills, would be an asset in returning the area to stability. The multidimensional mission’s non-military aspect of political rapprochement, demilitarisation and reconstruction require being energised. India could help the AU in seeing its venture to success.

    It is possible that in light of improvement in the DRC, the MONUC there may wind down. This could witness a progressive return of the blue beret brigade there. Looking out for alternative deployment opportunities makes sense. Spare capacity exists in India’s military since its internal security commitments are winding down and its military is already imbued with the constabulary ethic. Every opportunity for foreign exposure is useful professionally. It is a test and a learning experience, besides the compensation being good for morale. Opportunities for the police and paramilitary and in particular women contingents must be sought after proactively. Presently, it is clubbed with the other South Asian states in terms of numbers contributed. That this is a good thing in itself is undoubted since it opens up opportunity to understand each other. The mutual respect of Pakistani and Indian troops on such missions is well known. However, there is a case for upgrading the Indian contribution, since India seeks a seat at the high table. It should therefore be sharing a larger burden than its smaller neighbours

    Additionally, there is a need for heightening India’s intellectual contribution on peacekeeping concepts based on its own experience. In emanating from the CUNPK with USI, it would enhance India’s ‘soft power’ in another dimension as a major contributor country. Doctrinal suggestions that incorporate India’s experience in sub-conventional operations would be useful, particularly in robust peacekeeping situations. Several issues covered by the doctrine dubbed ‘iron fist in velvet glove’ are appropriate, such as quick impact projects, fraternisation and tactical drills. Experience of those having leadership experience in the UN, to include that of former Minister of State Shashi Tharoor and former Director of USI Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar could be captured, perhaps in a book. Currently, the deputy of the UNMIS is a retired general who could likewise be tapped for such an effort.

    Peacekeeping is India’s forte, not only because of its military’s professionalism but also due to its political acceptability globally. India’s image as a benign rising power can be exploited and enhanced in raising its peacekeeping profile. A concerted plan involving the military and the UN desk of MEA can help make this area a major military diplomacy endeavour. The fallout would be enhanced UN credibility, given that the alternative of ‘coalition of the willing’ has suffered a mortal blow. India must capitalise on its ‘difference’.