Bangladesh’s presence in the UN peace operations has been remarkable and vibrant. As a leading contributor of members to various peace missions of the United Nations, Bangladesh has created a dominant image and an independent identity in the global arena. Although currently many nations – developing and developed – contribute to peace operations, Bangladesh peacekeepers have earned a special reputation. Bangladesh is now the top troops and police contributing country (TPCC) in the world. Theoretically, the participation of Bangladesh in the UN peace operations has been influenced by the changes in conceptual parameters of peacekeeping over the past three decades and more. Bangladesh did join the UN peacekeeping missions at the fag end of the Cold War, which was instrumental to determine the need and mandate of peace operations. The overwhelming focus of the UN role in international peacekeeping has expanded through various phases since its inception in 1948. The current form of peace operations, as analysts term the fifth-generation of UN peace operations which are attributed to the factors such as the need for the use of force, mixed command, ‘robust peacekeeping,’ the task of ‘peacebuilding’, technological revolution, and inclusiveness of peacekeepers in terms of gender, profession and regions.
Bangladesh’s journey to UN peacekeeping operations began in 1988 with 15 uniformed observers in UNIMOG (Iraq-Iran). In 2020, Bangladesh again emerged as the top troops contributing country (TCC) in the world. In 2019, Bangladesh was the 3rd largest troops contributing country in the UN peace operations. Bangladesh was the largest troops contributing country consecutively in 2014 and 2015. Bangladesh is also a leading nation in sending female peacekeepers. Bangladesh has already reached a target of deploying 16% Staff Officer and Military Observer in UN peacekeeping operations. Bangladesh’s participation in peacekeeping missions has been based on the strong commitment of the country to global peace and security. The Father of Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, reiterated a firm commitment to world peace in his speech at the UN General Assembly in 1974 that remains a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s success in UN peace operations.
The overwhelming presence of the Bangladesh Army is a hallmark of Bangladesh’s participation in UN peace operations. The first mission of Bangladesh in 1988 was fully represented by the members of the Bangladesh Army. The Bangladesh Army participated in more than 46 missions. The total number of peacekeepers from the Bangladesh Army is 1,41,726. Bangladesh has already earned a rare appreciation and recognition from the host nations for their outstanding contribution to peace and harmony. Sierra Leone declared Bangla as their official language in 2002. Liberia has named its capital’s major street after Bangladesh. Some African countries have set up schools naming Bangladesh i.e. Sierra Leone-Bangladesh Friendship School, Bangabandhu-MBIO Primary School in DRC. Many anecdotal evidence confirms that the Bangladesh peacekeepers have developed extraordinary relations with the local communities based on trust and confidence. In addition to mainstream and conventional functions of peace operations, Bangladesh has shown a tremendous level of engagement in civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) activities, local level skills sharing in agriculture and related sectors, educational support, charitable assistance, and providing medical facilities.
Bangladesh Peacekeepers in MONUSCO
The current UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), has succeeded the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) which was established in 1999. Bangladesh joined MONUC in 2003. Through Resolution 1925 (30 May 2010), the Security Council authorized the withdrawal of up to 2,000 troops and turned MONUC into MONUSCO as of 1 July 2010, with the ‘S’ for “Stabilization.” The new name and mandate were meant to indicate that a return to “normalcy” was near, even if this was not fully reflected by the events on the ground, and that emphasis should shift to a DRC-led initiative to stabilize the country’s institutional and territorial space. As pointed out by a South-African researcher, this was “a significant symbolic change that could lend itself to portraying the DRC Government as taking more responsibility for the consolidation of peace.” According to the UN documents, the MONUSCO has been authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.
Currently, Bangladesh is the third largest troops contributor country in MONUSCO. As of April 2021, Bangladesh has 1679 troops while Pakistan and India have sent the first and second largest numbers of troops with 1928 and 1851, respectively. How is Bangladesh contributing to UN peace operations in the DRC? It may be mentioned that peace operations in Africa are much needed and, at the same time, most difficult as evidenced through several missions in the past and present. Late decolonization, ethnic diversity, geographical terrains, global power politics and colonial linkages have made peacekeeping missions are challenging for any TPCC, including Bangladesh. Situations in Angola, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are notable examples in this regard. Despite the extreme forms of political and socio-economic challenges in the DRC, Bangladesh has demonstrated remarkable success in MONUSCO. The mission leadership, the force leadership, the DRC government and local administration openly shared their views about the performances of Bangladesh contingents during a Media visit on 1-9 July 2021. They have applauded the role of Bangladesh peacekeepers for their professionalism, dedication and courage in their peacekeeping role.
Bangladesh makes a two-way contribution to peace, stability and security in DRC. First, it has substantive engagement in the mainstream and conventional peace operations as part of MONUSCO in the areas of military operations, construction, signal, military police, protecting installation and infrastructure etc. According to sources of Armed Forces Division (AFD) in Bangladesh, currently total 04 contingents of Bangladesh Army (BANRDB, BANENGR, BANSIG and BANMP) and 03 contingents of Bangladesh Air Force (BANUAU, BANASMU and BANATU) are deployed in MONUSCO. An Infantry contingent of 850 personnel in DR Congo-MONUSCO as Readily Deployable Battalion (BANRDB) has been deployed in the Norther Sector. The Northern Sector’s area of responsibility is located in Ituri, one of the 26 provinces of the DRC, covering a total area of 65,658 sq. km (25,351 square miles). In this area, Bangladesh contingents have been part of several successful operations such as the Operation “Kuta Futa” (The Search), Operation Stability for Djugu, Operation Pigeon Blanc, Operation Outreach, Joint Operation Anges De Paix, Operation Blue Moon, and Operation Quest for Harmony. These operations were jointly conducted by Bangladeshi Contingents and FARDC in Ituri Province. These operations were aimed at protecting the civilians, preventing frequent militia movement, disorganizing and annihilating militias, and showing up MONUSCO presence in the militia affected areas.
Bangladesh has demonstrated extraordinary success in their operational drives in fights with the armed groups, patrolling for security and other security related actions. Bangladesh troops had been indomitable to their participation in different operations. To understand their courage and determination, it may be mentioned that Bangladesh has lost 26 peacekeepers in DRC in performing their duties. Nine of the army personnel as UN peacekeepers were martyred in an ambush of militia group on 25 February 2005 when they were on a domination patrol near Kafe, about 20 miles northwest of Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province. The Bangladeshi Battalion constructed a martyr square the same year at the Ndromo army camp to commemorate the martyrs. The square named as Congo-Bangladesh Friendship Square was inaugurated on 6 October 2014. Besides, Bangladesh engineers and military police contingents have been playing a crucial role in infrastructure building in support of the mission and local communities.
Second, Bangladesh contingents have immense contribution to grassroots or micro level empowerment in DRC. While out on patrol in their area of responsibility or on any kind of duty, peacekeepers of BANBAT/BANRDB, BANENGR, BANMP, BANSIG and others interact with the local people, including children of primary schools encouraging them on the importance of education. Members of the Bangladesh peacekeeping missions in DRC deal with common people, the marginalized and the periphery. The real contribution of Bangladesh peacekeepers is not advancing the interests of the elite in DRC. The nature of engagement as observed from the ground level experiences clearly shows that every member of Bangladesh contingent is committed to contribute to real peace for the people in the conflict zones in DRC. Conflict zones in Congo include Sud-Kivu, Orientale, Nord-Kivu, Maniema, Kinshasa, Katanga, Kasai-Oriental, Kasai-Occidental, Equateur and Bas-Congo. While in 1999-2000, major conflict zones were Sud-Kivu and Orientale, in 2018-2019, it is Nord-Kivu and Kasai-Occidental.
Bangladesh has substantially supported MONUSCO’s people-centred approach – in the sense of the concrete impacts that the Mission has on the lives of individuals and communities. In order to redress the gaps, in recent years, the Mission’s civilian dimension, in particular, has worked to adopt a participatory approach, backing inclusive local mechanisms for dialogue and consensus and building community-based solutions. By expanding its capillary reach into the territory, the Mission has tried to create new interfaces with communities, especially those located in and around hotspots of violence and instability. Bangladesh peacekeepers, with their long tradition of working with the local masses are strongly poised to contribute to the new approach of MONUSCO. Bangladesh peacekeepers have already demonstrated their capacity and commitment in this arena of peace operations.
In conclusion, it is true that the DRC lives through conflict and violence for decades. The long enduring conflict and violence generated political crises, famine, poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, and chronic instability in the country. The pre-existing ethnic divides with intra-state and cross-border linkages have accentuated it for years. The DRC situation is also termed as a regionalized civil war. Against this complex backdrop, peacekeeping missions constantly face a challenging environment of threats and insecurities. The Bangladesh peacekeepers in the MONUSCO mission are fully aware of the challenges and hardships and remain ready to confront them fearlessly. They work with their utmost professionalism, dedication and courage to contribute to stability and security in everyday life of the Congolese.