Indian peacekeeper deaths pose tactical questions | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 16.04.2013
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Indian peacekeeper deaths pose tactical questions

The death of five Indian soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers in South Sudan has prompted calls for a tactical rethink by New Delhi. More Indians have died in such operations than any other nationality.

Lieutenant Colonel Mahipal Singh’s 21-year-old son, R. S. Pilani puts on a brave face talking about his father's last moments before he was felled by enemy bullets.

"My father had shot dead 12 out of the 200-odd rebels who had surrounded the convoy of 32 officers. Clearly they were outnumbered but he put up a brave fight and saved the lives of many civilians," Pilani, told DW after his father's cremation late last week.

Singh, along with four other Indian peacekeepers, were killed by rebels last Tuesday when their group was ambushed in Jonglei state in South Sudan. Currently there are 2,200 Indian peacekeepers deployed in the newly-independent country.

The attack on the UN convoy is among the worst Indian peacekeepers have encountered in missions that India has participated in since the 1960s. With the South Sudan incident, the number of Indian fatalities in UN missions over that time has risen to 149 - the highest number for any country.

In this photo provided by the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution (Photo:The United Nations, Mark Garten/AP/dapd)

India would like to gain a permanent seat on the Security Council

As India's ambitions and power grow, some officials feel there is a need to be more pragmatic in assessing the human cost of operations.

"It is now clear that more Indian troops have died in the line of their UN duties than from any other country," Lt. General P. C. Katoch told DW.

"We can’t shirk from our international commitments, especially when it comes to a bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but I think that external affairs and defense ministries need to do a better reconnaissance of these hot spots before we send out men."

Tailor-made strategies

Major General G. C. Dwivedi, a retired Indian officer, agrees. He told DW it was important to make tactical changes according to the theater of operation.

"We must not lose sight that there needs to be better training of our men and have a better understanding of the environs they are working in," said Dwivedi. "It is not as if one size fits all. Our modus operandi needs to change from place to place."

Many senior army officials also maintain there is a need for troops to have better equipment.

"We know India has its international commitments," Lieutenant General Shankar Prasad told DW. "At the same time we cannot lose sight of the fact that our men in peace keeping missions need to be better equipped. They need better battle gear, armored vehicles and more sophisticated weapons according to the ground situation."

United Nation's peacekeeping policewomen, from India, arrive at the airport in Monrovia, Liberia, (AP Photo/Pewee Flomoku)

Indian police, as well as soldiers, contribute to operations in countries like Liberia

"This incident must serve as a timely reminder and how we need to reorient our policies," added Prasad.

Heavy share of burden

Peacekeeping is a growing business, employing more than 120,000 soldiers, police and contractors - many from developing nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Nigeria. Just over 5 percent of troops contributing to UN missions come from the European Union and the United States.

UN peacekeeping postings can provide combat experience, international experience and financial rewards for the personnel involved.

India has deployed over a total of 7,000 army personnel in UN Peacekeeping missions in Congo, Golan Heights, South Sudan, Lebanon, Ivory Coast and East Timor. India has consistently ranked in the top three contributors for much of UN-led peacekeeping operations.

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