In 1992 Somali Democratic Republic, ravaged by a tragic civil war, lay in ruins. With armed bandits left free to loot, kill and create terror in the absence of any governmental authority, bullet-riddled walls and bombed roofs of buildings testifying to the horrors of civil war, communication infrastructure destroyed, civic amenities missing - there were hardly any signs of civilized life. Three hundred thousand people had died of starvation since November 1991. There were 4.5 million malnutrition cases out of which one million were on the verge of death. A picture of disaster, the country was in desperate need of international humanitarian aid.
Moved by the agony and suffering of innocent Somalians, the United Nations went into action. As a result, United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM-1) came into being. Law and order being the pre-requisite for any humanitarian effort, the Security Council directed the Secretary General to deploy a security force before the operation was launched.
Pakistan was the first country to respond to the call of the United Nations. On 14th September 1992 five hundred Pakistani troops arrived in Mogadishu to launch the United Nation humanitarian campaign. Deployment of the security force was preceded by the arrival of an advance party of 50 United Nation observers, drawn from different countries, led by a Pakistani Brigadier.
The defaced monument of Somalia 's Independence
bears witness to years of violence and destruction.
At this time, attacks by armed gangs on incoming and docked ships as well as air strips were common. They also looted food supplies arriving under international humanitarian aid before they could reach delivery and distribution points. The Pakistani security personnel (ex 7 Frontier Force Regiment) were therefore assigned the task of securing the sea and airports, escorting food convoys and ensuring smooth distribution of relief supplies. The Pakistani Contingent was also instructed to recover unauthorized arms to further enhance the safety of peace-keeping and humanitarian efforts. Provision of medical aid, rehabilitation of people and reconstruction of infrastructure in the war—ravaged areas were also part of the programme. Pakistani troops secured the Mogadishu airport to make it safe for relief flights. They also cleared the nearby port of armed bandits who could pose a threat to the anchoring and off-loading of ships carrying grain and other edibles for the faminished people.
Escorting of relief convoys and effective and tactful handling of the security situation soon won the Pakistanis the trust and respect of the local population. Their selfless services provided the Somalians both relief and hope after a dark period of terror and hunger. The goodwill that their humane behaviors generated was reflected in the “Pakistani-Somali Walal Walal” (Pakistanis and Somalis are brothers ) slogans that one heard from an appreciative people. In order to enlarge the scope and scale of peace-keeping and humanitarian work over thirty-seven thousand troops, drawn from more than two dozen countries including US, Italy, France and Germany, were inducted by March 1993 and UNOSOM -1 converted into UNITAF (United Nations International Task Force). Pakistan , whose strength in later months rose to over 7000 troops, became the main operative contingent in the most war-ravaged part of Mogadishu controlled by the Farah Aideed faction. The other part was under control of Ali Mahdi.
Both factions had been authorized a limited number of arms to be kept in their respective Authorized Weapons Storage Sites (AWSS). But individual bandits and gangs were to be disarmed. Also necessary was inspection of AWSS so that accumulation of excessive arms, a potential cause of violence, could be checked. Though these measures were designed to reduce incidents of violence and loot and were to be carried out in the interest of peace with an understanding already reached with the major factions, those who were to be disarmed were not happy to give up their weapons and their feelings were exploited by the vested interests.
This was the cause of the 5 June 93 tragedy. The Pakistani troops were asked by the United Nation Force Headquarters to carry out an inspection of the weapon storage sites of Farah Aideed, to whom the date and time of inspection had been communicated in advance. Nobody at the United Nation Force Headquarters was able to foresee his reaction and his power to arouse the feelings of his followers against those who were carrying out the inspection. Even as their colleagues were engaged in distributing food at one of the feeding points, the Pakistani inspectors were ambushed by Aideeds followers. The ambushers were using children and women as human shields to prevent being fired back while the road-blocks they had set up made Pakistanis withdrawal difficult. Though taken by surprise and totally exposed, the courageous blue beret Pakistanis fought their way back taking full care that the children and women protecting the attackers remained unharmed. In the process twenty-three Pakistanis embraced ‘Shahadat' fifty-six sustained injuries while eleven were disabled. As recovery of arms was a vital part of the peacekeeping mission, the 5th of June incident only accelerated the process of search operations in the Pakistani area of responsibility. More than ninety per cent of the searches were carried out by Pakistanis. Some of the operations were carried out by the US Quick Reaction Force, Rangers and the Italian troops. The Olympic Hotel Incident of 3rd October 1993 took place during one of these operations when 75 US Rangers got stranded and had to be rescued by a joint force of US, Pakistani and Malaysian troops. The grim battle lasted eight hours.
The US Rangers suffered 17 dead and 77 injured while one was captured by Aideed forces. The wounded were admitted to the Pakistani hospital at Soccer Stadium. Had it not been for the courage, valour and steadfastness of the Pakistani soldiers, the rescue operation could not have succeeded and the trapped US soldiers might have perished.
The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, Admiral Jonathan Howe and UNOSOM Force Commander, Lieutenant General Cevik Bir expressed special appreciation for Pakistani troops' determination and professionalism and thanked them for helping the US troops.
Major General Thomas M. Montgomery, Deputy Commander of the United Nations Forces in Somalia in a television interview said: “Many of the soldiers are alive today because of the willingness and skill of the Pakistani soldiers who worked jointly in a rescue operation with Malaysian and American soldiers in most difficult and dangerous combat circumstances”. He thanked the people and Pakistan Army for sending “such splendid soldiers to Somalia who we feel proud to serve with. Pakistani soldiers have been completely dependable even in the most difficult circumstances. They have shouldered a huge and dangerous load for UNOSOM and the Somali people”.
On the health front, Pakistani doctors and paramedical staff provided free medical services to the suffering humanity in the Pakistan Field Hospital in Mogadishu , established in April 93. In addition to free medical and surgical outpatient services, which included laboratory and X-ray facilities, the hospital pursued an expanded immunization programme (FF1) for the benefit of Somalians in collaboration with UNICEF. A Dental Centre provided the much-needed dental care while anti-TB cover was made available under an anti- tuberculosis programme. Over 100,000 Somali men, women and children benefited from the services provided by Pakistan 's 8 specialist doctors, 12 general duty medical officers and 180 paramedics.
In addition, the Pakistan UNOSOM Hospital also provided indoor treatment to the Somalians, a facility which was restored by Pakistani contingent after it had ceased due to withdrawal of US and Swedish troops. This Pakistani hospital had 26 doctors and 6 ICU trained nurses and was fully equipped to undertake advanced treatment in surgical, neuro; ophthalmic, ENT, gynecology, skin, child specialization and dental ailments.
UNITAF contingents belonging to the United States and European countries left Somalia leading to the reorganization of the United Nations force as UNOSOM-2 and a revision of its charter of duties. The countries contributing to the 19000-men UNOSOM-2 were besides others, Pakistan , India , Bangladesh , Egypt and Nigeria . Pakistan had the largest number of troops - more than 7000.
UNOSOM-2, of which the Pakistani contingent was a part, remained dedicated to providing relief and undertaking a variety of rehabilitation tasks in an international effort to mitigate the suffering of the Somali people. The withdrawal of UNOSOM-2 Contingents was undertaken under a phased programme in early 1995. Pakistani troops were selected to cover this withdrawal - a befitting tribute indeed to their professionalism. The Pakistani contingent finally returned home on 5 March 1995 .