Book Review - UN Peacekeeping Operations in Somalia 1992-1995: A Pakistani Perspective (Karachi: Paramount Books, 2019). Author: Tughral Yamin.
Given the fact that there is a nondescript peacekeeping literature on Pakistan's role in United Nations peacekeeping missions, Dr Tughral Yamin's latest book, UN Peacekeeping Operations in Pakistan in Somalia 1992-1995: A Pakistani Perspective, fills this gap in the knowledge by bringing forth the contribution of Pakistan in Somalia from 1992-1995, as he puts it, 'a glamorized version of the heroics of US marines in the streets of Mogadishu in the Hollywood film Black Hawk Down ... has presented a one-sided version of popular history.' He laments, 'what little is known about the Pakistani participation in the peacekeeping operations in Somalia is fast fading from public and personal memories and may eventually be lost forever.' Hence, this book not only highlights and appreciates Pakistan's global behavior and stance to conflicts around the world but also makes a longitudinal qualitative study on the incidents of UN operations in Somalia from a Pakistani perspective.
Dr Yamin, Associate Dean of Center for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan in his book gives details and insights of the interviews he conducted with the military officials who had been a part of UN operations in Somalia. making a pragmatic yet pensive analysis of these operations in Somalia, namely United Nations Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM I), Unified Task Force (UNITAF) and United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II), showing his faith on the troops sent by different countries, especially Pakistan, that earnestly strive to establish peace elsewhere. Yamin addresses only moderately the familiar dilemmas of UN peacekeeping, However, the individual chapters of the book are comprehensive and underscore the importance of Pakistan's role in Somalia's debacle.
Somalia: The Road to Debacle
There is vast literature on the debacle of Somalia describing the internal strife in Somalia to UN resolutions culminating in the involvement of multilateral peacekeeping force involving US largely, and also other significant countries such as Pakistan, Britain, Italy, France, etc. This book gives a detailed account of the incidents of UN peacekeeping operation from 1992-1995, with bold and detailed description of the fallacies in strategies, wrong turns and shortcuts by the US and the UN. It sheds light on different facets of Somali society, culture and history to illuminate the readers about its geostrategic importance, sociopolitical conditions and its inimitable complexities. Hence, the second and third chapter of the book build an insightful view for the readers to understand the causes of Somalian debacle.
Somalis are homogeneous people with almost all of them professing the Islamic faith and following the Shafai'I Sunnis. However, one may call it the legacy of Italian and British colonialism in Somalia till 1960 which divided the society along the tribal lines. Hence, post-Independence, one of the factors that significantly contributed to the misery and conflict in Somalia was a highly decentralized government and a society fractured along the lines of genealogy, a point Yamin has discussed in detail.
Another reason for the conflict was the involvement of the superpowers, which the author aptly describes as the battleground for the superpowers. Post-independence, there was only a brief period where Somalia survived a relative democracy marked by sporadic wars with Kenya and Ethiopia for its irredentist claims, resulting often in instability within the state. Yamin rightly describes the situation as 'post colonial British chicanery' to 'keep the region destabilized by handing over parts of Somalia to Kenya and Ethiopia.' This quasi-democracy fell when Major General Muhammad Siad Barre seized power in 1969. Siad made efforts to dismantle the clan system in Somalia and to create alliance with the Soviet camp through his 'scientific socialism,' a concept which Yamin compares with Bhutto's Islamic socialism in Pakistan.
Siad Barre was not meant to be a Soviet Union's favorite for long when Emperor Haile Selassie fell in neighboring Ethiopia and its new government of Lt. Col. Mengistu-Mariam embraced Marxism. The turmoil in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia following the shifting internal power gave impetus to Siad Barre to seize it in 1972. However, what ensued was a superpower swap in the horn of Africa. Instead of supporting Siad Barre, the Soviet Union switched sides with Ethiopia and Washington which had been backing the Ethiopians supported Siad Barre. However, all this drama came to an end when the Cold War ended in 1989 and around the same time Siad Barre fled the country in 1991. What remained of the US support to Siad to crush Mengistu and Soviet's support to Mengistu to humiliate Siad was domestic discontent and dysfunctional government in both countries, guerilla war, abandoned arsenals prompting and fueling a civil war.
Yamin describes the situation in Somalia by drawing its parallel with Pakistan as, 'after the end of the Cold War, Somalia like Pakistan became a geo-strategic discard. The global great game was over and the pawns on the international chessboard had no more utility.' In Somalia, an estimated 500,000 had died of starvation and another 5 million were on the verge of dying because of food shortage. Moreover, there were more than a million people who were homeless or internally displaced. The author here reminds that many Somalis also fled to Pakistan, where there is still a small town in its capital Islamabad called the little Somalia.
The Civil War Erupts
The Ogaden disaster, along with Siad Barre's discriminatory regime, would unbridle an insurgency against him and by 1989-90, Somali Armed Forces were fighting a weak battle on three fronts against the opposition groups formed by different clans of Somalia. On the north-east were Somali Salvation Domestic Font (SDF), on the north-west were Somali National Movement and on the South were United Somali Congress (USC). As predictable, Siad Barre's base of power eventually eroded and the country fell into the hands of clans provoking a violent uprising.
While in the north the Isaaq clans formed an independent Somaliland Republic, unrecognized internationally, the rivalry for power erupted between within the USC dividing it into power contenders, Ali Mahdi leading Somali Salvation Alliance (SSA) and Muhammad Farah Aidid leading Somali National Alliance (SNA). Both factions looted and plundered the country making locals flee from the country causing the greatest humanitarian emergency in the world. While the author explicates that the 'most lucrative target was food aid being sent by the international donors,' it makes the reader question why Somalia was not able to garner the attention of the UN when it was plunging into a civil war and why the relief goods were sent to the country which became the currency for warlords.
UN Peacekeeping and US Strategies
Dr Yamin details a scrupulous and vivid account of the day to day peacekeeping operations in Somalia which at times also becomes repetitive with some long-winding unpalatable details, written more in a journalistic style. It is also felt that Yamin reserves his own views on the UN and the success and failures of its peacekeeping. For example, Yamin has three separate chapters forming a detailed account of peacekeeping operations. However, he abstemiously discusses the inherent flaws in the structure and policies of the UN which contributed to the inadequacies of peacekeeping operations in Somalia. For instance, Yamin states in the literature review that 'after the end of the Cold War, there was a marked increase in UN peacekeeping missions.' However, he does not state that the end of the Cold War actually 'freed' the UN to become more assertive and that it had been paralyzed by the US-Soviet rivalry which limited its intervention to places not vetoed by any of the permanent members of the Security Council.
Another point that the readers would want to know is writer's standpoint on the profile and role of Boutros Boutros Ghali, the UN Secretary General from 1991-1996. History is ambivalent about Ghali, calling him a fiend, who tried to recklessly push his Agenda of Peace - a policy which advocated the use of UN military force for peacekeeping through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration-in Somalia without much support from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) or the countries he sent the peacekeeping force to. At the same time, he is remembered as a secretary general who presided over the three largest UN operations in history, albeit this made UN a symbol of mismanagement. Ghali also encountered many snares from Washington for his efforts in Somalia which tried to limit his role by introducing United Task Force that was supposed to report to Washington directly initially.
At one occasion Madeleine Albright, the chief US diplomat at the UN bluntly told Ghali that US is shifting its course in Somalia after the loss of American soldiers in Black Hawk Down incident. When the relations between the two turned sour, the Clinton Administration even tried to block his reelection as Secretary General.
Another aspect that requires more attention is the inherent problems in the structure of UN peacekeeping missions. The author's vivid account of the operations in four years involving the UN, the US and Pakistan shows that Somalia was a guinea pig for UN peacekeeping. In the second half of the book, Yamin details how the UN operations in Somalia were a picture of haphazard planning replete with mistakes and lost opportunities. For e.g. the vague strategy by the UN and the US which invaded Somalia without making an exit strategy and the unclear purpose of the mission. Moreover, there were other problems such as 'blue helmets' are rarely able to strike fear in their enemy. They may earn the goodwill of the locals but when it comes to using force for peacekeeping, it often results in a severe backlash that brings more harm than good. The foundational issue is that the peacekeeping force is deployed for rehabilitation, not annihilation which is easier than the latter.
Moreover, military coordination, training in a new land, besides the lingual challenge, makes peacekeeping operation a challenge within itself. These issues may not be strongly pronounced by the author but his careful details of the operations, coordination, management and outcomes make the reader read between the lines conveniently.
Pakistan's Heroism in Somalia
Being the liaison of 'the unit 7 Frontier Force (FF) Regiment which was the first battalion in the world to land on Mogadishu,' Yamin makes a poignant account of the challenges and issues of Pakistan Brigade. There were 500 men selected from all ranks and an advanced party of 90 men was sent earlier. Yamin writes that the Pakistani Battalion (PAKBATT) which came to be known as 7 FF in Somalia faced a lot of 'operational ambiguity.' He continues to state that, 'they weren't sure of how to deal with the crowd that was rowdy and impatient to get its share of food.' Yamin tells that the unit used to remain awake all night vigilant of random mortar fire.
The area of operation of UNOSOM was divided into four sectors and Pakistan was assigned the central sector which was the hotbed of the conflict, located in Southern Mogadishu which was the stronghold of Farrah Aidid, a Somali warlord and the leader of the United Somali Congress militia. The UNOSOM was largely welcomed by different parties of Somalia except latter's section and the situation was increasingly getting tense in Somalia due to the resistance of Aidid's forces. By 1993, the strength of Pakistani Brigade rose to 5000 which eventually grew to 7000 after the June 5t, 1993 when 23 Pakistanis were killed. Pakistani contingent not only provided protection to humanitarian convoys and distributed food but also had medical camps set up which treated almost 100,000 Somalis.
Yamin unravels in his account the heroism and sacrifice of Pakistani Brigade. On June 4 1993, the UN had ordered inspection of the Authorized Weapons Storage Site (AWSS) belonging to both Aidid and Ali Mahdi located at a radio station. Aidid and his aide warned that the inspection of weapon sites will escalate to a war. Also, as Yamin recounts that the guard at the inspection site informed the team that there were no arms. But the US soldiers accompanying the Pakistani soldiers insisted on reconnaissance of the site and broke the locks. Soon the situation erupted into a conflict where reportedly a civilian was shot. The news spread like fire and sporadic clashes broke throughout the city between Aidid's forces and the peacekeeping force. The brunt of the Somali anger was borne by a Pakistani convoy that was caught in a carefully prepared three sided ambush on June 5.
UNOSOM II which was the last mission in Somalia finishes at the valiant commitment of Pakistani Brigade to peacekeeping. After the sad incident on June 5, 1993 the Americans raided the house of Qeybdiid Abdi also known as Atto, the right hand man of Aidid on July 12. The raid was not only futile but actually turned the Somalians hostile against the blue helmets. The Americans opened aerial bombardment at Atto's house, the outcome of which was that Atto wasn't present there but there were 54 innocent dead and 161 injured. To make the matter worse, the Jonathan Howe, the SRSG announced $1 million bounty for Atto. On October 3, the US special operation planned to apprehend two not-so-significant leaders of SNA under Aidid. The course of action turned upside down two black hawks which were flying low and were roped by Aidid men and 90 US soldiers got stranded in the dark alley under the ongoing indiscriminate aerial firing.
Here Yamin unravels a fact largely forgotten by history and media that it was Pakistani novice soldiers who put their lives on stake and rescued the column of US soldiers.
Pakistan's Contribution in Somalia in Archives
In 1999, the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a panel on United Nations peace operations tasked with preparing a detailed report assessing the shortcomings and failures of the UN in Rawanda and Srebrenica. The report is now famously known as Brahimi Report after Lakhdar Brahimi, the Chair of the panel. There has been only one such report where the UN has conducted an in-depth and insightful study on its failure. Yamin's book, with its detailed account and analysis on the US, the UN and Pakistan's role in UNOSOM can be considered as a major contribution towards such reports. It also helps in building insight into the UN peacekeeping operations and the multidimensional debates related to it.
The struggle and heroism of Pakistani peacekeeping troops in Somalia must not be forgotten by Pakistan and the world. Yamin's work must be commended for adding a significant chapter in the annals of history recording the contribution of Pakistan in Somalia amidst an elusive and nonconsensual path to peace and also for highlighting to the world that Pakistan is a peace-loving country.
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|Date:||Jun 30, 2019|
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