By Amity Saha*
November 21 is celebrated as Armed Forces Day in Bangladesh. On this day in 1971, the members of the Army, Navy and Air force of the Bangladesh Liberation War forces carried out a joint operation against the Pakistan Army. This was almost eight months into the war of liberation after Bangladeshi independence was proclaimed on March 26, 1971.
Later, 93,000 personnel of the Pakistan Army surrendered to the allied forces of Bangladesh and India resulting in the independence of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.
As the Bangladesh Liberation War gained vigour from the month of July, Bengali military personnel who were members of the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force forsook their respective units to join Bangladesh Armed Forces and formed themselves into regular units across the border in Indian territory primarily as a Land Force. Some Naval commandos also unfolded the Naval wing while a few pilots and airmen formed the air wing.
The joining of these forces resulted in large areas along the border being liberated with the passage of each day. November 21 bears special significance in the history of Bangladesh and is celebrated every year with due solemnity and grandeur to honour the sacrifices made by the members of the Bangladesh Armed forces — if not for their sacrifices, it would never have been possible to see an independent Bangladesh within the short span of time.
In 1988, Bangladesh began contributing troops to the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts in areas of conflict across the world and the country’s contribution to UN peacekeeping is a story of glory and success. Today, Bangladesh can hold its head high in the global arena because of the Bangladeshi uniformed personnel having earned the gratitude of millions in far off lands. The vow taken by Bangladeshi peacekeepers for establishing peace and security emanates from the principles enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
The preamble of the Bangladeshi Constitution says: “…We may prosper in freedom and may make our full contribution towards international peace and co-operation in keeping with the progressive aspirations of mankind.”
Through 28 years of excellent peacekeeping, the footprints of Bangladeshi peacekeepers are now evident in almost all the troubled areas of the world — from Haiti to East Timor and from Lebanon to the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have endured through freezing European winter to the hot-humid weather of East Asia and arid deserts of Sahara and Mali.
A total of 141,923 Bangladeshi peacekeepers from Bangladesh Army, Navy, Air Force and Police have so far taken part in 54 peacekeeping missions in 40 countries. Bangladesh is one of the leading troop-contributing countries with 7,129 peacekeepers currently deployed in 12 missions.
Bangladesh is also proud of maintaining the position of the topmost troop-contributing country from 2010 to 2015. Besides, Bangladesh is also one of the leading contributors of female peacekeepers. One of the secrets of such triumph is that Bangladesh has always been laying emphasis on quality peacekeeping besides the head-count.
Bangladesh is proud of exhibiting outstanding competence of its peacekeepers in times of need, even in danger.
In 2007, Bangladeshi peacekeepers rescued all the UN employees of a UN Radio Centre at Juba, South Sudan, from the rebels without firing a single shot. This was apparently a difficult mission but was possible because of the courageousness, tactfulness, neutrality and acceptability of Bangladeshi Peacekeepers.
In April 2011, Bangladeshi peacekeepers faced the brunt of unruly anti-democratic Gbagbo militia in Ivory Coast who had detained local and foreign journalists in a hotel in Abidjan. Risking their own lives, the Bangladeshi peacekeepers tactically won over the militia, recaptured the hotel and rescued all journalists safely.
In the same year, Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Ivory Coast also came to the rescue of a vessel, loaded with passengers and having Deputy Mayor of Abidjan on board, which capsized and a bus that plunged into the Grand Bassam Canal.
In 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over phone and requested deployment of air assets in South Sudan. Bangladesh responded quickly by redeploying three MI-17 helicopters from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Sudan.
All these are testament to Bangladeshi peacekeepers’ robust and firm commitment to the greater mission of peacekeeping.
Peacekeeping efforts have severely tested but not weakened Bangladesh’s determination. Bangladeshi Peacekeepers, working under complex and dangerous circumstances, have often endangered their own lives.
So far, 128 peacekeepers (as on March 28, 2016) have made the supreme sacrifice and 172 have sustained major injuries for the noble cause of peace.
One pays the deepest tribute to those peacekeepers who have laid down their lives or sustained injury for upholding Bangladesh’s commitment to world peace. Their commitment, contribution and supreme sacrifice have built up the image of Bangladesh as one of the front-runners in UN peacekeeping.
In recognition of this, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan commented about Bangladesh: “…A model member of the United Nations, providing leadership amongst the least developed countries … and contributing substantially to peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.”
Present UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also expressed his deep admiration for Bangladesh. During a visit to South Sudan, he lauded Bangladeshi peacekeepers and said: “…My deep admiration and commendation for all the noble work the Bangladesh contingent has been making for peace and security in Sudan.”
*Amity Saha is a Research Assistant (International Affairs) at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]