Peacekeeping becoming difficult: UN official

Peacekeeping is “more relevant” today than before, an UN official who oversees peace operations says adding it is becoming “increasingly difficult”.

Published : 14 Sept 2015, 02:03 PM
Updated : 14 Sept 2015, 02:03 PM

Atul Khare, the Head of the UN’s Department of Field Support, was delivering a lecture at the foreign ministry on Monday on how his department works and the challenges of providing support to peace operations.

A select group of audience comprising members of the armed forces, police, former ambassadors, academia, and students, who works with different UN associations, attended the lecture on the second day of his three-day visit, first after he assumed the office in Mar this year.

His visit assumes importance as Bangladesh is the largest contributor of peace-keepers in the world with the current deployment of over 9,500 members of armed forces and police.

Khare, a former Indian diplomat, said “rapidity, effectiveness and efficiency” would be the guiding principles of his department.

“My dream of a department is that provides solutions that is rapid, effective and efficient with compliance of rules and regulations, ethical conduct for caring the present generations and environment protection for caring the future generations.”

He said every dollar spent on peacekeeping could also benefit eradication of poverty, fight against diseases, care for children and care for migrants.

He also stressed on maintaining the highest standard of integrity and respect for human rights by the peacekeepers in every aspect of personal and professional conduct.

But he said today peace operations were “more relevant than at any time during the UN’s 70 years of history”.

“Development and economic growth are almost impossible in a climate of instability.

“Peace without growth, without improvement in the economic and social conditions, better standard of life and the larger freedom would also remain as a mirage,” he said.

Khare, who is the second highest-ranking official in the UN after the secretary general, brings to the position “strategic management and innovative reform expertise” in both headquarters and field perspectives.

As Assistant Secretary-General, he led the UN’s Change Management Team, and also worked for peacekeeping operations.

He served as the Deputy Head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York in 2010-2011.

A doctor by training, he was also the Indian High Commissioner in London in 2005-2006.

He replaced Bangladeshi Ameerah Haq in his current position.

The first UN peacekeeping operations was established about three years after the UN came into existence in 1948 with a mandate to observe the implementation of Armistice agreement between Israel and four of its neighbours.

“We came a long way,” Khare said, as today blue helmets were involved in stabilisation of post conflict situations, protection of civilians, support to national elections, and the conduct of targeted offensive operations against armed groups among other tasks.

“The locations and conditions in which we operate are becoming more and more difficult,” he said.

And it was because of the long and tortuous supply chains, low available of water and energy, competition for scarce resources among local populations, diseases and injured coupled with lack of appropriate and timely medical care, he said.

Moreover, he said the UN was also under “increasing pressure” from a growing number of stakeholders both to produce results and demonstrate efficiencies at lower cost.

Just to give examples, he said, in Mali UN today confronts extremist groups who blend in easily with local communities.

“This is a very major difference between peacekeeping of the present and past.”

“I call peacekeeping of 1940s, 50s as peacekeeping of strangers….people were sent from very far so that they had no direct or indirect links with the countries they were supposed to be deployed.”

“We today came to a situation what we call peacekeeping by neighbours,” he said, giving examples of Mali.

“The group we deal with blend easily with the local communities. It creates own challenges.”

He also gave examples of Haiti, and Democratic Republic of Congo where the most robust mandate in the UN history allowed the UN forces to neutralise armed groups.

Khare extolled Bangladeshi peacekeepers as they serve in those challenging places, and remembered the sacrifices of 125 Bangladeshis who lost their lives during the missions.

He said he looked forward to working with all relevant stakeholders “closely” during his tenure.

Foreign ministry’s Maritime Affairs Unit Secretary Rear Admiral (rtd) Khurshed Alam moderated the talk.

UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Robert Watkins was also present.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher