Today is the International Day for UN Peacekeepers. Since Pakistan plays a major role in peace keeping missions around the world, I would like to congratulate Pakistan and the country’s military on this day.

Perhaps this is one of the few areas where the land’s military is actually being made good use of. Myself, a pacifist and worried soul about high military budgets in Pakistan, and the world at large, I am glad to note that the military can do something good after all. Sadly though, the Pakistani military has a more prominent role than what is natural in our time.

Therefore, I am a bit measured in my congratulations. But I also recognize the good work Pakistan has done, participating in UN peace keeping missions. Although I believe the world in general, and the US and NATO in particular, have gone totally astray in their military expenditures, with an exorbitant weapons industry and research, I realize that the military is still part of ‘realpolitik’ in our world, and almost every country has a military set-up.

A few countries, such as Costa Rica, do not have a military, but an expanded police force instead. But then I am also hinting at the fact that in many countries, the military is used for internal unrest and control, or simply military rule, as has so often been the case in Pakistan.

Sadly, the recent military coup in Thailand proves that the military, for inexplicable reasons, feels that they should take control and be the leaders of the land. The king, who is the head of state, even approved it. It is indeed overstepping the military’s role and competence. The military men should be under civilian rulers, not replace them or be above them, and they should only be concerned about defense issues, not aggression either internally or externally.

Yet, the military can play useful roles in rescue missions after disasters, such as earthquakes and floods and in special situations, can play a role in internal peace keeping, if violent conflicts occur and they cannot be contained.

That is what we are marking with today’s UN day, which is about internal peace keeping and border control. Often, when countries come out of wars and conflicts they need help to keep disagreeing parties away from continued fighting; they need help to protect the people, to help normalize life and contribute to sustainable peace. Often, they need help to see issues from another angel too, but that I don’t think military peace keepers can do much about this.

When the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Pakistan last autumn, he acknowledged Pakistan’s important peace keeping contributions, with participation in many major situations, including Somalia, Bosnia, DRC, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, and a number of smaller post-conflict situations. Pakistan has contributed with several thousand troops, in the larger operations, to a few hundred officers for monitoring, or a few staff observers and military advisers in other situations.

Recently, Pakistan was asked to help in the ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan, the world’s youngest state, and also in Egypt. Both operations are to some extent preventive, helping in avoiding continued or escalated conflict rather than in keeping a peace that hasn’t yet come. During his visit to Pakistan, Ban Ki-moon inaugurated the Centre for International Peace and Stability at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), which is expected to play a key role in the future training of peace keeping personnel, and carrying out research and studies of local and international relevance. The UN chief also visited the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which is an important policy and coordination office related to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods.

Pakistan has the capacity to assist other countries in conflicts. Yet, it also has its own unresolved situations, notably Indo-Pak relations, the Kashmir conflict, internal security problems in Baluchistan, conflicts in border areas with Afghanistan, including issues related to the ‘war on terror.’ Some of these conflicts are so protracted that the causes may begin to be unclear, and unorthodox thinking could lead to resolving them.

This week, it was particularly positive that Pakistan’s Prime Minister went to New Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Indian Prime Minister. Both countries and their people would benefit if normal relations could be developed, as should indeed be the case amongst mature neighbours with so much in common.

I come from Norway, a peaceful little land, one of five Nordic countries, who for centuries fought and quarrelled. It was the leaders, the kings, who fought each other, not the people. Today, it is unthinkable that any violent conflict could occur. If the stubborn, individualistic and historically aggressive former Vikings could put away their axes and swords, then I cannot see any reason why the generally more peaceful and friendly Asians cannot.

In the future, I hope that Pakistan with its experience and expertise, and its kind people, will be able to consider peace and conflict issues in a more pragmatic way. Abroad, I believe Pakistani peace keepers are much appreciated. But at home, I hope that the military and civilian leaders can find a more scientific and sober approach. The new NUST centre and other peace and conflict study institutes can help in the endeavour.

When considering conflicts, peace negotiators say that one should think outside the box, talk in small groups, and try to put oneself in the other person’s situation. All parties must give and take, but we will reach nowhere without honesty and good will; not just dreaming of good outcomes, but by imbibing pragmatic good will.

On that note, let me state that all groups must be involved in talks and the search for peace when there is conflict; this includes extremist groups. Often, it is the leaders that make people become extremists, as a reaction to unfair or humiliating treatment. If everyone is included, given a place and stake in society, then there is no need for violence. We must never think we are superior and faultless. With a humble and inclusive mind, we will be on the right track to contributing towards peace - at home and abroad - and nothing is higher in the eyes of God and humans.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

Email:atlehetland@yahoo.com