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June 9, 1999


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UN observers reduced to spectators on the LoC

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Amberish K Diwanji in Srinagar

Name: The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.
Function: To observe, to the extent possible, developments pertaining to the strict observance of the cease-fire of December 1971 and to report these to the Secretary-General.
Location: The ceasefire line between India and Pakistan in the state of Jammu and Kashmir
Headquarters: Rawalpindi (November to April) and Srinagar (May to October).
Duration: January 1949 to present.

If ever there was a vestigial United Nations mission anywhere in the world, it must be the UNMOGIP. The latest flare up in Kargil, with Pakistani intruders crossing the border has simply shown the total irrelevance of the mission. But it continues to function out of Srinagar, led by Major-General Jozsef Bali, the chief military observer, who hails from Hungary.

"Our mandate clearly says that we have to observe to the extent possible, and the key words are 'extent possible', the strict adherence of cease-fire after December 21, 1971. This is as per the United Nations Security Council resolution number 397/1971 (passed on December 21, 1971)," General Bali told Rediff On The NeT.

Yet, it is unfair to blame the UNMOGIP for not spotting the intrusions by armed men, a conflict that might escalate into war. If anything, it is India that played a key role in making the UNMOGIP impotent, perhaps due to New Delhi's bitter experience with the UN on the Kashmir issue.

The UNMOGIP is among the oldest UN missions, and one which continues till date even as other such missions have either completed their tasks or simply been wound up. It came into existence in 1949 after India complained to the United Nations about Pakistan's intrusion into Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian army was then busy pushing back the intruders.

The UN ordered a cease-fire, negating India's hope that the UN would ask Pakistan to vacate Jammu and Kashmir. As per the Karachi Agreement of July 1949, a cease-fire line (CFL) was established, to be supervised by the UN, dividing Kashmir into two parts. The UNMOGIP's mission was to ensure that both parties observed the CFL, a task it never succeeded in. After all, in 1965, thousands of Pakistanis crossed the CFL in a bid to capture Kashmir, leading to war.

In 1971, India returned the compliment when it unilaterally altered the CFL by annexing territory in some parts. The new border became the Line of Control. And New Delhi took the view that since the CFL no longer existed, the UNMOGIP's mandate has lapsed and the observers would be better off packing their bags and taking the next flight out. However, since Islamabad opposed India's stand, the United Nations took the view that till the UN Security Council took a decision on the status of the UNMOGIP, it would continue with its mission.

"Actually, in most places, the LoC matches with the earlier CFL, so the change is very little. But now the Indian position is that UNMOGIP has no authority in any conflict between India and Pakistan," said Bali.

It may be added here that one area where the LoC and CFL do not match is in the Kargil sector, which changed to India's advantage following the 1971 war.

With India refusing to cooperate, the UNMOGIP has little to do. "Since 1972, India has not even allowed us to approach the Line of Control from the Indian side," said Bali. However, he added that from the Pakistani side, the observers faced no restrictions and could go up to the LoC.

Not that the UNMOGIP can do much even if they were to reach the LoC, something Bali admits. "Even though we can go to the LoC from Pakistan, I must say that the UNMOGIP has no authority to impose any conditions on the two parties," he said.

More important, the UNMOGIP does not even have the strength to make a useful contribution, should the need arise. It has just 45 oberservers, military officers drawn from countries such as Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Italy, South Korea, Sweden and Uruguay. It has no soldiers. "The military observers are unarmed and we lack the strength to do anything," admitted Bali, but added, "should the need arise, certainly the UN will send additional men under our command."

The UNMOGIP has a staff of 240. Both India and Pakistan provide the backup services in their respective countries such as the clerical and support staff. The host countries also provide accommodation and necessary benefits to the UN observers.

Bali added that ever since militancy broke out in the Valley, the Indian government has taken great pains to ensure the safety of the observers. The observers are provided armed escort and well-guarded accommodation. "I guess if a militant were to kill an observer, it would deeply embarrass New Delhi," he said.

So what does the UNMOGIP do? "Right now, our job is to observe, investigate and report to both sides and the UN Secretary-General. We provide our good offices to both the sides," declared General Bali. It doesn't help the UNMOGIP that India has not registered any complaint against Pakistan since January 1972.

One key function is to collect information from the local newspapers and other sources to keep the United Nations informed of what is happening. Also, General Bali has been busy giving interviews to the media over the past month following the flare-up in Kargil, but he refused to speculate on what would happen or even on whether the Kargil imbroglio might see the UNMOGIP finally acquire some teeth.

"I cannot speculate on what will happen but I would describe the situation as bad, especially for the soldiers and the men out on the front from both sides. They are doing their duty, following orders issued in the capitals," said the major-general from Hungary.

Asked how he felt about UNMOGIP's uselessness, his reply was a study in diplomacy. "As an army officer with many years of experience, I will not say that I am frustrated. I have a limited mission, and I can and must only do what is in our mandate. The mission is clear and so is the task," he replied with a deadpan expression.

"However, as an individual and as a human being, I must admit that I feel saddened by the whole episode. I look at the situation and see that people have been fighting each other for 50 years. Fifty years is a very long time, some peaceful solution should have been reached by now. Problems everywhere else are being settled -- Kosovo, North Korea, Africa. It is the end of the 20th century, it is not a time to fight, it is not a time to hate," he added wistfully.

Bali pointed out that people and the media are ignorant about UNMOGIP's role and function in its peacekeeping mission. "We are being held responsible for what is happening on the border. But people don't realise that we do not have a mandate to play a role," he said.

Not that the UN is reduced to being a spectator everywhere. In Cyprus, an island divided between Greece and Turkey, the UN has a clear mandate to not just keep peace but enforce it. The UN personnel here are armed and have a clear mandate to open fire should any side try to alter the 'Green Line', which divides Cyprus between the Greeks and the Turks.

"The UN Force in Cyprus is armed and patrols along the Green Line. It has a duty and a mission to prevent resumption of armed hostility and its men can open fire," pointed out Bali.

Can UNMOGIP be given such a mandate? "A change of mandate can only be authorised by the UN Security Council," stated Bali.

But whether the UNMOGIP will be given such a mandate seems unlikely. Despite Kargil, New Delhi is keen to keep the UN and any other would-be international mediators out of the Kashmir issue and will brook no interference from any quarter.

And till such time that a decision is taken on the role of the UNMOGIP, the observers, all army officers, continue to soldier on from their blue-and-white offices in Srinagar and Rawalpindi.

The Kargil Crisis

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