August 3, 2010
Parliament has not functioned in Nepal for almost six months. The national budget has not been passed, the economy is stagnant, law and order continues to languish in the countryside, and development is at a standstill in one of the world's poorest nations. And the public have had their fill of party leaders whose selfishness eclipses the needs of the people. Yesterday, to add salt to the wound, the impotent legislative parliament, for the third time, failed to choose a new Prime Minister. Neither of the candidates from Nepali congress’s Ram Chandra Paudel and UCPN-Maoist’s Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” failed to clinch a clear majority vote.
To feel proud of Nepal, one must look elsewhere.
Republica’s Akanshya Shah wrote a wonderful article about the UNAMID mission in Darfur, where a Nepali company recently accomplished an extremely difficult maneuver. Anyone feeling in the doldrums about Kathmandu self-destructive politics should read this inspiring report:
KATHMANDU, Aug 1: For the first time in the history of United Nations peacekeeping, UNAMID mission led by Nepali company has successfully completed a mobile patrolling of almost 1,100 km in the hostile territory of the war-torn Darfur in western Sudan.
The multi-department joint Extended Long Range Patrol, Exercise Haboob Chase, which begun on July 19 and lasted for nine days, was conceptualized, planned, and led by the Nepalese Special Forces (Force Reserve) Company under the command of Lt Col Anup Jung Thapa.
UNAMID (The United Nations-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur) is considered the most dangerous UN mission since Somalia with 61 deaths in the UN side in the last three years, which is highest in the current UN missions around the world. Some 600 civilians died in Darfur in this May alone.
Even during the patrol, three Rwandans from Rwanda Battalion were killed about 120 km south of the patrol.
The Nepalis are the first non-Muslim, non-African military units in UNAMID. Nepal provides one Sector Reserve Infantry Company as reserve for North Darfur and one Force Reserve (Special Forces) Company as Strategic Central Reserve, which consists of 160 personnel.
The operation Haboob Chase (Haboob is local name for severe sandstorm) was carried under harsh climatic conditions as the temperature was 48 degrees Celsius and there was lack of water.
The patrol ran cross-country over rough desert terrain and also through territories held by different armed factions. The patrol is said to have successfully crossed through 38 different checkpoints of various such factions.
The operation was conducted in real scenario on ground as live operation with aerial back-up given by Ethiopian attack helicopters. It became the first patrol of its scope and scale with 1,000 UN peacekeepers mobilized during the operation.
With short range up to 15 km, mid-range of 15-40 km and long range up to 40-90 km, this was the first of its kind along full length of dangerous Chad border and first operation to cover almost all areas of Darfur.
NA has claimed that the operation proved successful in raising awareness of real situation in areas too dangerous or too far to be accessed by regular patrolling. The operation has also enhanced security environment for the displaced people of Darfur and helped enhance UNMID´s image besides proving Nepali peacekeepers´ capacity.
UNAMID started operation in Darfur on January 1, 2008. The current Nepali Reserve Force is the first of its kind from Nepal Army in Darfur.
After the completion of operation Haboob Chase, Lieutenant Colonel Anup Jung Thapa spoke to myrepublica.com from Darfur on his own experience and challenges faced during the operation.
Excerpts of the phone interview with Thapa:
How long did it take to plan this operation?
It took about two months of rigorous planning. One month we spent on coordination and three and half weeks on execution part of the operation.
Why was Haboob Chase planned at this particular time?
UNAMID has seen 26 casualties this year alone, which is highest in the peacekeeping missions around the world. So we had to do something for the people to feel our presence here.
We were also encouraged by New York to carry this operation. It was important also to bring a change of mindset that a non-Muslim, non-African Company could lead such an operation of large scale and intensity. We needed to send a message of robustness.
At the same time, the Ethiopian helicopters were not being utilized, so they had to be used in some way. And lastly, the areas we covered were inaccessible earlier. Such an operation was visualized vital in bringing raw data to access the realities facing the internally displaced people.
Basically, we needed to be oriented with variety of areas in Darfur. This was the main reason.
How many personnel were mobilized for the operation?
Eight different units were mobilized during the patrolling. There were 150 men at one given time in ground and another 50 in air. In total, some 1,000 peacekeepers were engaged in the operation.
How challenging was this task for you personally and for the Nepali company in general?
It goes without saying that security situation in Darfur is most fragile. So this was the first challenge for we were covering almost 1,100 km, more than the entire length of Nepal.
While in patrol, the Rwandan post in Nirtiti was attacked and three Rwandan peacekeepers lost their lives. We came across three dozen check-posts held by armed factions, but we were successful in maneuvering our way.
Besides some technical challenges, it was risky and to attempt such a large scale operation by a totally foreign group was itself a challenge against the prevalent mindset.
What were the outcomes of the operation and what precedent do you think the Nepali company has set?
A model has been set that such a task is possible if there is will on our part and that it can be done in the future. Our efforts have been appreciated by the force commander, who joined us at the last part of the operation himself. There has been good coverage in the media and New York in particular is happy with us.
How has operation Haboob Chase helped to build the image of Nepal Army peacekeepers?
When we came to Darfur there were lost of doubts concerning compatibility with locals, problems emanating from language and others. But this operation helped us gain confidence among local public. Furthermore, it will have strategic implications for draw-down plan.
Nepal is the fifth largest peacekeeping contributing country but on the reliability side we are at the top. I firmly believe that with this success, the future demand of our peacekeepers in other missions will go up. It has given a new height to the capability of Nepali peacekeepers.