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An officer and a gentleman bids farewell: Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar, UNMISS Force Commander

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                                Our collective job, when we are in leadership positions, is to remove as many of these obstacles as possible and prioritize our resources to protect people.
                            
                            
                                                
                            
                                                            JUBA, South Sudan, January 22, 2022/APO Group/ --
                                                        
                            “My earliest memory is standing in front of a mirror and waving to myself,” Lt. Gen. Shailesh Tinaikar says with a smile.



At first glance, the Force Commander of the world's largest peacekeeping operation, UNMISS, appears soft-spoken, but his eyes betray the intensity of his personality.  That's the same intensity that drove his younger self to join the Indian military against his family's wishes.

“I come from Mumbai, the main city, which is not known for sending people to the army, and my father was part of the elite Indian Administrative Services,” he recalls.  “All my friends, my peers were preparing to become engineers or start a business and I was the only person who chose to join the military.  They really didn't stand a chance because I just couldn't see myself as an accountant or a businessman counting numbers.  All I wanted was to become an officer.
An officer and a gentleman bids farewell: Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar, UNMISS Force Commander

Our collective job, when we are in leadership positions, is to remove as many of these obstacles as possible and prioritize our resources to protect people.

JUBA, South Sudan, January 22, 2022/APO Group/ —

“My earliest memory is standing in front of a mirror and waving to myself,” Lt. Gen. Shailesh Tinaikar says with a smile.

At first glance, the Force Commander of the world’s largest peacekeeping operation, UNMISS, appears soft-spoken, but his eyes betray the intensity of his personality. That’s the same intensity that drove his younger self to join the Indian military against his family’s wishes.

“I come from Mumbai, the main city, which is not known for sending people to the army, and my father was part of the elite Indian Administrative Services,” he recalls. “All my friends, my peers were preparing to become engineers or start a business and I was the only person who chose to join the military. They really didn’t stand a chance because I just couldn’t see myself as an accountant or a businessman counting numbers. All I wanted was to become an officer.”

This extraordinary focus is a characteristic that would define his four years of training. He soon joined the elite branch of the Special Forces. “I became a paratrooper, a special service leader, specializing in desert warfare to begin with, and went on to command my battalion as a colonel and then a brigadier in northeastern India and then a major general in northern India. from India.”

The achievements of this rising star led him to serve in the United Nations on two previous occasions, in Angola and Khartoum, before the formation of South Sudan.

But when asked about the challenges he faces in each role, he says UN peacekeeping is the winner. “You are out of your comfort zone in a completely foreign environment, a multinational spirit where you lead troops from different countries, different traditions, different cultures, and also work closely with civilian colleagues. It is a challenge to operate in an integrated manner in peacekeeping”, he admits.

During his tenure in South Sudan, he made important operational changes that he believes have helped protect civilians at risk of violence more effectively. “The country has moved from politically motivated violence to more inter-communal conflict. But, violence is violence. We cannot sit idly by when people are being killed. Therefore, we developed a more mobile approach, deploying smaller detachments to key locations where the potential for escalating tensions is high. I think it was a good decision and it has worked to make us more effective on the ground.”

The other concern, he says, is the terrain, which is marshy, boggy and, during the rainy season, makes movement by road almost impossible. “We are receiving all-terrain vehicles. It is not an ideal military solution, but it will at least provide mobility for our peacekeepers to reach areas of conflict that were previously inaccessible to us.”

Another challenge the Force Commander has faced is maintaining protection activities on the ground during COVID-19. “We all feel a great sense of uncertainty, of personal loss and only a show of empathy, of care, could guarantee that the troops who served under him continued to work despite the enormous personal problems during the pandemic. I am very proud of the way we kept the show going as a team, ensuring that our protection duties continued unhindered.”

Lieutenant General Tinaikar stresses that operational decisions cannot be made remotely.

“I have always been someone who makes bold decisions and, fortunately, most of them have paid off. But when other people’s lives depend on you, you can’t be bold without first-hand knowledge of the situation on the ground. I am ultimately responsible for the lives of our Blue Helmets and the communities we are here to serve. I cannot feel comfortable sitting in an air-conditioned office in Juba giving orders without being able to properly monitor, guide and influence operations. Unless you meet and talk to people who are suffering, appreciate their challenges, it’s impossible to make the right decisions.”

This force of purpose is something that has always been part of his leadership style and has allowed him to build relationships of trust with his local interlocutors. “We cannot afford to work at cross purposes with the host government. We cannot have them as opponents, we need to partner with them. This is common to all peace operations and is a delicate balance that all senior leaders must cultivate.”

True to his type, he is also candid about some of the UN‘s shortcomings. “When people are dying, you can’t rely on lengthy bureaucratic procedures. At times, I feel that the UN system can be slow in its response to crises that break out. Our collective job, when we are in leadership positions, is to remove as many of these obstacles as possible and prioritize our resources to protect people. It’s an ongoing process in all peacekeeping missions, and I hope we continue to strive to be better, faster, more effective and agile.”

A champion of gender parity, Force Commander Tinaikar is full of praise for the women who serve under him. “In a peacekeeping context, what counts is a whole-of-society approach to building harmony. And that cannot happen if the concerns of 50 percent of the population, women, are not heard. Our peace operations must be a mirror of the communities we serve and I am pleased to say that the work done by our female peacekeepers is, quite frankly, incredible. They lead from the front and bring much-needed gender sensitivity to our response to conflict,” she states emphatically.

As a senior peacekeeper, Lieutenant General Tinaikar is well aware of the decline in international support for multidimensional peace operations. It’s something that keeps you awake at night.

“Democracy is difficult even in the most advanced nations, and here in South Sudan, we are talking about the youngest country in the world. There is much to do here and the people of South Sudan need all the support they can get. The question is: how long will the patience of the international community last? I don’t have an answer for this, but as UN peacekeeping operations, we’ve gone from monitoring ceasefire lines to helping build nations. It is a time-consuming process, it is an expensive process. However, I see no other option to strengthen fragile nations. It’s a matter of our collective conscience, in my opinion.”

As Force Commander Tinaikar prepares to end his successful stint leading the UNMISS military component, he is also retiring from the Indian Army. He is a man who is at peace with his life.

“If you see the reference points of a good life: family, profession, partner, I am privileged. I have a very supportive colleague, a career that has culminated in leading troops in the largest peacekeeping mission in the world. I have worn this uniform proudly for 42 years without a single scar and when I take it off for the last time I will not look back. It is the beginning of a new stage in my life, with new mountains to climb.”

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