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Reconfiguring hope in broken societies

  • Published at 12:02 am May 29th, 2018
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Bangladesh’s contribution to the UN peacekeeping initiative cannot be denied

Keeping the peace is always a difficult proposition.

Particularly so when the issue relates to efforts toward maintaining or restoring order in broken societies and disjointed countries around the world. 

That international measures in helping nations return to a semblance of order, perhaps even proper order, requires a global sense of dedication to the cause of peace has patently been manifested in the steps taken by the UN over a long period of 50-plus years to bring some of the world’s most fragmented nations together following years of devastating armed conflict.

It has not been an easy job, but nations contributing to UN peace missions have done it, despite the hits they have taken on a number of occasions in such volatile regions as Africa.

No fewer than 3,000 soldiers from different countries have sacrificed their lives in the half century, and more, since the UN decided that it was imperative for peace to be restored in such countries as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Ivory Coast through collective international contributions to the cause of pacification.

For Bangladesh, the good news has been that its soldiers and policemen have been able to play a healthy role in bringing order back among nations which have long suffered from the consequences of internal armed conflict. 

And yes, there are yet fractured societies where civil wars rage in all their fury, compelling troops from Bangladesh and other nations to step in and prevent conditions from getting worse.

As one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions around the world, Bangladesh’s role has been key in improving conditions and guaranteeing a restoration of peace in such far-flung areas as Haiti and Africa. The role played by Bangladesh’s soldiers and police personnel remains a happy commentary on the global responsibility the country has taken upon itself to heal the world, in that metaphorical sense of the meaning.

The figures speak for themselves

Bangladesh has, in these present times, as many as 10,000 of its soldiers, along with policemen, stationed in 45 conflict zones. Obviously, such a large deployment of its troops is reflective of the burden the Bangladesh Army has had to bear, and is indeed bearing, through its experience and the absolute professionalism it has attained since its formation in the crucible of conflict that was the Liberation War in 1971. 

Today, the army can proudly claim to be the sentinel of peace and the keeper of the gates to stability in such conflict-ridden countries as the Congo, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.

The sense of dedication which the Bangladesh Army has brought into the task of ensuring a restoration of peaceful conditions is, today, part of the history of Sierra Leone, where the government was inspired into adopting Bengali as one of the official languages of the country.

It was a clear testimony to the hope which was engendered by the Bangladesh troops among the people of Sierra Leone. Not many instances are there in our times of soldiers from a foreign nation conveying to a disturbed society the happy message that normality can be restored. Bangladesh’s soldiers confidently passed on that message to Sierra Leone’s people.

In the period till December 2017, the expansive nature of the role in peacemaking and peacekeeping by Bangladesh’s troops and police personnel was reflected in their presence on 10 UN-led missions around the world. The responsibilities they have been carrying out in countries which remain zones of conflict entail some of the hardest callings of our times.

Briefly, Bangladesh’s contingents have remained engaged in a multi-tiered program that has included keeping the peace in conflict zones, providing security of life to civilians in these zones, making available medical services to people affected by conflict, and developing such essential infrastructure as building, repairing, and maintaining roads. 

It is to the credit of the Bangladesh Army that in the midst of the civil war in Sierra Leone, it was able to build a 54-kilometre stretch of road, one that was of prime importance for the people of the region where the road happened to be.

There have, of course, been the supreme sacrifices made by Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Africa’s regions of high conflict, with as many as 132 of them dying in the cause of freedom and stability in the region. But the deaths of the soldiers at the hands of insurgents, or in the crossfire of conflict, have never deterred Bangladesh from staying the course in its pacification programs.

Women in the armed forces

An instance here is the active participation of Bangladesh’s troops in the refurbishment of a 78-kilometre road in the severely disturbed country of South Sudan. The soldiers did the job well, in much the same way that a 56-member medical contingent led by Colonel Nazma Begum earned the gratitude of the people of Ivory Coast because of its activist role in the country in February 2016.

In truth, women in the Bangladesh armed forces and police have done the country proud on the many missions where Dhaka remains engaged. One may refer here to the exemplary contributions made by Flight Lieutenant Nayma Haque and Flight Lieutenant Tamanna-e-Lutfi through the aerial missions they carried out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2017.

Away in distant Haiti, a 160-strong, all-women police contingent from Bangladesh did splendid work in restoring order in the nature-devastated country between 2015 and late 2017 under the UN’s MINUSTAH program.

With a foreign policy resting on the principle of friendship for all and malice toward none enunciated by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, successive governments in Bangladesh have reached out to the larger world, through transforming the policy into a mechanism by which the country can play an increasingly larger role in ensuring peace around the globe.

The risks which Bangladesh’s soldiers and police are exposed to in the countries they are asked to serve, cannot be underplayed -- but those risks have never dampened the country’s resolve and enthusiasm about building and also restoring a structure of peace for nations and societies which have, for decades, gone through intense pain and suffering engendered by debilitating civil wars and natural disasters.

Today, every citizen of Bangladesh remains cheerfully conscious of the worldview of their soldiers as they go about the task of making the world a better place for those whose worlds have been ruined by human conflict in countries which once gave them hope. Bangladesh’s troops and policemen remain busy recreating that hope in all its bright rainbow colours.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.