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Esprit de Corps - (Pakistan-Bangladesh Troops Together for Peace in Congo).

Byline: Brig Anwaar Ahmed

Pakistan and Bangladesh have been the largest troop contributors to the UN. Both the armies have served together in several UN missions. Inter contingent relations have always been quite cordial.

In Congo, too the two armies had their troops employed in one brigade. It's a very unique experience serving with subcontinent troops under UN auspices. My experience with Bangladeshi troops has been quite pleasant and gratifying. Goodwill gestures between the two contingents were seen on various occasions. These were very heartwarming especially on Eids and Independence days. On 16 December 2004, Bangladesh Independence Day, the Pakistani contingent had planned to present sweets to Bangladeshi contingent, while they had decided not to overtly undertake celebrations, in order to avoid hurting Pakistanis' feelings. However, the Pakistani contingent greeted the Bangladeshi brethren and thanked them for respecting their emotions. Despite having an exclusive mosque and a religious teacher in the Pakistani contingent, the Pakistani soldiers offered Eid prayers with Bangladeshis. The climax of the prayer was its Dua offered by the Imam in Urdu as well as Bangla.

It's a case of sense of sacrifice and belonging between the two nations. This year also marks the eighth anniversary of a tragic incident in which, on 25th Feb 2005, Front des Nationalist Integrationists (FNI) rebels of Congo ambushed 21 members Bangladeshi patrol, brutally killing nine soldiers including a Captain. It was the second highest number of casualties suffered by Bangladeshi Army. Those who were Martyred included Captain Shahid, Warrant Officer Sohrab, Sergeant Siraj-ul-Islam, Corporal Atoar Rahman, Leading Seaman Nur-ul-Islam and the civilians, Abd-us-Salam, Zahir-ul-Islam and Belal Hossain.

There was a shock for the incident all over. On the same day, no other contingent was in a position to undertake the dead bodies' recovery mission. Pakistani contingent volunteered to undertake this high risk mission. While armed rebels had still encircled the site, Pakistani troops, onboard Bangladesh Air Force helicopters went in and recovered all the dead bodies. Emotional scenes were witnessed among the Bangladeshi soldiers while receiving dead bodies. On 26th February, during the funeral ceremony, all the civil and military staff of Pakistan paid respect to the martyrs. One of the coffins was shouldered to the aircraft by Pakistani soldiers as a gesture of solidarity.

In order to bring the perpetrators to the book, one of the rarest operation in the UN history ensued. On 28th February and 1st March 2005, Pakistani contingent undertook a high risk operation wherein sixty rebels were killed besides their headquarters destroyed. Two Pakistani soldiers got critically injured. One permanently lost his both eyes while other suffered hearing impairment. Although the operation may misconstrue as revenge but collective sense of loss and grief remained a force multiplier. After a week's time, the then Bangladesh Army Chief of General Staff (later the Chief of the Army Staff), Gen Moin-ud-din Ahmed visited Pakistani troops and thanked them for their support to Bangladesh Army. This is a clear demonstration of people to people contact which was appreciated by complete staff in the UN Peacekeeping Forces.

There is tremendous goodwill and passionate feelings for each other between the two armies. There is a regular mutual training exchange programs. Troops of both the countries have been operating together in various UN missions.

It is evident that a significant part of population on both the sides understands that past cannot be undone. If you sow bitterness you will reap bitterness. Pakistani nation has always been supporting Bangladesh's achievements and successes. Dealing with history honestly and magnanimously will help shape future rather than prejudices and bitterness. Despite Indra Gandhi's notorious remarks about Two-Nation Theory, both the nations exist as independent Muslim states in the Sub-continent.

The writer commanded an Infantry Battalion in Congo during 2004-05 and is presently serving in ISPR.
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Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 31, 2013
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