WASHINGTON: Chief US diplomat for South Asian affairs Alice Wells said on Wednesday that she was inspired by the Pakistani women who were serving in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In a tweet posted on the official site of the US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), Ms Wells also a posted the picture of a ceremony in the DRC where Pakistani peacekeepers were awarded UN medals.

The women are part of the first-ever Pakistani Female Engagement Team (FET), which is deployed with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO) in the DRC’s South Kivu province.

“Inspired by Pakistani women serving with distinction in the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC,” Ms Wells wrote. “The first Pakistani all-female group of 15 peacekeepers received medals last week for their work performing a range of services to the conflict-affected eastern DRC,” she added.

Pakistani women officers attached with this group include psychologists, stress counsellors, vocational training officers, gender advisers, doctors, nurses, operations officers, information officers and logistics experts.

A UN mission statement said UN Peacekeepers relied heavily on engaging with the local community —which felt more comfortable liaising and sharing information with military troops that include women alongside men. “Throughout their deployment the Pakistani female officers worked hard to win the trust of the community,” it added.

The mission pointed out that Pakistani team has completed many successful projects including vocational training, medical outreach, regular sessions of support for students, local women and teachers exposed to trauma, and psychological workshops for Congolese police personnel.

Ms Wells’ post, however, triggered a debate on the official US website on the role of women in the armed forces. One of her followers posted a link to a news report from India, saying that the Indian government had recently informed the country’s Supreme Court that “women may not be suitable for command posts in the Army as male troops are not yet prepared to accept women officers.”

In its written response to the court, the Indian government also pointed out that “the composition of rank and file” in the Indian armed forces were “males, predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms.” Such troops, the report added, “are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command.”

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2020