WPK 200529 Pakistan women peacekeepers 2-1590764953631
Pakistani women serving in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image Credit: MONUSCO

Islamabad: Pakistanis are joining the global community in remembering fallen peacekeepers as United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres honoured those who sacrificed their lives to protect people in war-torn countries.

Among the fallen heroes honoured on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers (May 29) is a Pakistani, Sepoy Amir Aslam, who served with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Honouring men and women who have served as UN peacekeepers, UN chief said “more than 3,900  have lost their lives in the line of duty”. He also praised the 95,000 peacekeepers working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pakistan’s role in UN peacekeeping

With nearly 4,462 uniformed personnel serving in some of the most dangerous UN missions, such as in the Central African Republic and Mali, Pakistan is the sixth largest contributor to UN peace operations. Since its first deployment to the Congo in 1960, the country has consistently ranked as a top contributor, deploying more than 200,000 troops in almost every continent. Pakistan’s heroic dedication remains unparalleled even after 24 Pakistani troops lost their lives in 1993 in one of the worst attacks on UN in Mogadishu. Recently, Pakistan’s efforts of rescuing 2,000 people in the Congo floods and services of women peacekeepers in the fight against COVID were widely hailed.

Pakistani women peacekeepers protecting and inspiring people

This year’s theme “Women in Peacekeeping” highlights the rising role of women serving in peace operations. Committed to peace and security, Pakistani women are making their mark and leaving a legacy to inspire more women to join the mission. Pakistan has achieved the goal of deployment of 15 per cent female staff officers as nearly 450 women have served in UN missions. “Pakistan is a leader in championing women peacekeepers and an example for other troop contributors”, the UN chief said during his recent visit to Pakistan. They have successfully implemented projects on vocational training, medical and psychological support, and other security operations.

Pakistan’s contributions in UN peacekeeping missions
• Pakistan has deployed more than 200,000 personnel to 41 UN missions in the last 6 decades.
• At least 157 Pakistani peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives to protect people in vulnerable countries.
• Pakistan’s first contingent was deployed in the UN operations in Congo in 1960.
• Pakistan is the sixth largest contributor to UN missions with more than 4,400 uniformed personnel serving in nine UN peace operations.
• Currently are serving in Abyei, the Central African Republic, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, Western Sahara and Somalia.

First-ever Pakistani Female Engagement Team

In January 2020, the first Pakistani Female Engagement Team (FET) in any UN mission around the world received medals for serving in MONUSCO for participation in military and police operations including peacekeeping, humanitarian efforts, and disaster relief. The team includes psychologists, stress counselors, vocational training officers, gender advisors, doctors, nurses, operations officers, information officers, and logistics officers.

“I see the smile of my son in smiles of Congolese children”: Major Samia Rehman

Major Samia Rehman Pakistan peacekeeper UN
”I see the smile of my son in the smiles of Congolese children" says Major Samia Rehman. Image Credit: MONUSCO

Pakistan Army’s Major Samia Rehman, who serves as an operational planning officer with the UN mission in Congo, says it is an honour to serve under the Blue Helmet wearing the Pakistani flag. “It was a hard decision to leave my two-year-old son behind, but once I saw Congolese children striving for a better future, I decided to work for them” she shared in an online post. Now “I see the smile of my son in the smiles of Congolese children.” Her husband also served in the DRC as a peacekeeper. “He gave me the strength to join the mission, as it was not easy for my family and friends to accept it.” In 2019, she was awarded the UN Special Representative for Secretary-General (SRSG) Certificate of the Year.

Why is it important to have women peacekeepers?

Major Samia encouraged more women to participate in peacekeeping, as they serve as a role model in local communities facing violence. Women only represent 6 percent of the UN's uniformed military, police, justice, and correction personnel. “Being a woman, a female peacekeeper, I deeply understand the suffering of Congolese women and children” she says, adding that “working in a peacekeeping mission is one of the best experiences I have ever had.”

Major Fozia Perveen, the first Pakistani officer to serve as a peacekeeper in Cyprus, says that women can play a key role in peace-building efforts. Sharing her personal experience in an interview, she said “locals, particularly women, are more open to engagement if the officer dealing with them is a woman.” She hailed the fact that women hold key leadership positions in UN mission in Cyprus.

Major Saba Anwar shares achievement and challenges in DRC

Major Saba Anwar, the team FET leader in Congo, says that their services have helped establish strong bonds with local people, especially women, to promote peace in the Central African country. The peace efforts and enhanced protection led to a “decrease in sexual violence cases, recruitment of child soldiers and threats by armed groups in the region” she shared in an interview with APP. The COVID outbreak has not deterred the resolve of women peacekeepers or hindered the routine peace activities, she added. Major Saba is part of the 49-member Pakistani women army officers’ team in MONUSCO. With 1,945 troops, Pakistan is the biggest contributor to the UN mission in DRC.

Proud moment for Pakistan

The relationship established by Pakistan’s all-female team has won the hearts and minds of locals and “paved the way for further deployment of female peacekeepers,” Major Saba said. The contribution to peace efforts in DRC is “a proud moment for me and my team - being a woman and a brave soldier of Pakistan Army.” The extensive role of women and recognition has encouraged women from many countries to join peace mission.

What do UN Peacekeepers do?

• Protect civilians

• Prevent conflicts

• Build rule of law and security of institutions

• Promote human rights

• Promote women, peace and security

• Deliver operational support