The Iraq Options

The Iraq Options
May 2003

From the beginning to the end, New Delhi failed to orchestrate a coherent policy on Iraq. During the period of intense international diplomatic negotiations to prevent recourse to military action, India’s policy on Iraq was conspicuous by absence. The same was the case when hostilities broke with the invasion of Iraq by the so-called US led coalition. There was no national consensus on the issue, rather a sensitive foreign policy issue became the catalyst for a raging domestic controversy with the Government and the Opposition differing sharply on the question of response to the Iraqi crisis. Even though the law makers managed to put forth a common stand that was critical of the military operations, and called for the end of hostilities and return of coalition forces,[1] the credibility of the country was already tested and found lacking. It appeared that New Delhi has been trying to maintain a façade of neutrality on Iraq that would have been satisfying for Washington. It welcomed the Security Council Resolution 1441 on Iraq and maintained that all steps should be taken to disarm Baghdad. Earlier, New Delhi played down an Iraqi proposal in November 2002, that Indian experts should join the UN arms Inspectors’ team. The government rejected a demand by the opposition that New Delhi must bring, or back, a resolution in the United Nations opposing any unilateral action by the United States against Iraq. Addressing the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), in Kuala Lumpur, the Indian Prime Minister reminded the Iraqi President on the need to disarm. India’s stand was to watch rather than do anything that might jeopardize ties with the US.

Given the fact that Washington would like to have New Delhi on its side on the Iraq issue (Robert Blackwill, the US Ambassador to Delhi, said that India’s Iraq policy is the same as America’s), India’s muted stand could have been designed with its long-term relations with the US in view. Though, in the context of the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s using many public forums to broadcast India’s opposition to unilateral war, the acceptance of a resolution naming the US provided its own contrast, that was not to affect larger Indo-American ties, given the fact that Washington was aware of New Delhi’s moral stand.[2] Indian Prime Minister reportedly explained (to the constituents of the ruling coalition) that India’s official stand of not condemning the US attack on Iraq while being critical of it was related to the Kashmir issue. The implications could be that, if India were to take a stronger line, the US could retaliate by increasing its pressure on the Kashmir issue especially as it has been consistently asking New Delhi to initiate a dialogue with Islamabad and offering its facilitation services which India does not want and even come up with a proposal of ceasefire on the Line of Control.[3]

There were some expectations on India for post-Saddam Iraq. As Ahmed Chalabi head of the Iraqi National Congress, and one tipped to lead a post-war government in Iraq, said the Indian democratic system should be taken up as a model for his country. “Democracy in India is a marvel of civilisation. We hope in some respects to have a political system similar to India.”[4] So even as the thunder in the Indian Parliament on Iraq tied Indian policy in knots, the government nevertheless picked up the threads to regain the political initiative soon after. This was reflected in a more activist approach to the challenges in post-war Iraq with New Delhi signaling its readiness to work with the United States and the international community in restoring peace and launching reconstruction in that country. The Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal made an attempt to put New Delhi’s stand in a perspective, that India shares with the U.S. the objective of Iraqi disarmament but had a different view on how it should be achieved. Notwithstanding the fact that international community has experienced deep divisions by the war in Iraq, India understands the urgency of developing a common approach to peace and reconstruction in Iraq and “India is ready to join hands with the U.S. and the international community” in achieving these objectives.”[5]

There were economic reasons as well with Indian industry vying for a role in the billions of dollars worth of Iraqi oil industry reconstruction efforts by taking sub-contracts from the main US and British firms for refinery revamp and pipeline construction. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Indian Oil, engineering consultancy firm Engineers India Ltd, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd and construction major Larsen and Toubro were all in the fray with help from the ministry of external affairs in this endeavor. As IOC chairman M S Ramachandran said, “We are looking at refiner revamps, pipeline construction and oil field services contracts,” particularly, revamp and turnaround contracts of Iraq’s three major refineries – Baiji in the north, Daura just south of Baghdad and Basrah in the south, which were severely damaged during the Gulf war.[6]

India advocating a role for the United Nations need not be seen in an alarmist perspective. Many in the US as well as UK also support a role for the world body. The Coalition may require the UN cover to save themselves from the consequences of what most in the Gulf see as interventionist policies of the stronger powers. The US and the U.K. are widely seen as occupation powers, not as liberators, in the Muslim world. The public opinion in these countries is already agitated and a UN supported post-war reconstruction effort could confer some sort of legitimacy to the conflict. Besides, it is expected that India will be operating within the set parameters – of preserving, deepening and expanding relations with the US. [7]India has already pledged $20 million as immediate humanitarian assistance for Iraq in response to the emergency appeal made by the United Nations, thus staking for a bigger role in the post conflict reconstruction effort.

The issue for New Delhi at stake is the level and extent of its involvement especially in the context of latest proposal to send peace-keeping forces for ‘stabilization duties’ to Iraq, that would obviously operate under the command of the US military rather than the United Nations. India initially wanted to keep its options open to respond depending on the composition of the force and the precise command and control structure, though making it clear that the formal mandate of a UN peacekeeping force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter would not be the sole criterion. Later however, a framework was produced vide the Security Council resolution (Resolution 1483) on 22 May 2003, that states that any contributions towards the “stability and security of Iraq” would be under the unified command of the Occupying Powers and the UN deciding to lift all sanctions on Iraq. With Specific suggestions from the US and the Great Britain for India to participate in the proposed stabilization force in the post-war Iraq, Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, during talks with his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials in Washington conveyed New Delhi’s willingness to participate in any work in Iraq.[8]

From India’s perspective, taking military responsibility to administer an entire sector in Iraq will signal to the world that New Delhi has finally broken out of the traditionally limiting political confines of the subcontinent. Until now the world had seen India as a South Asian power. New Delhi has taken security responsibilities in the subcontinent extending protection to friendly smaller states and confronting adversaries where needed. When it used force in the subcontinent or occasionally changed regimes in its immediate neighbourhood, India never sought the political cover of the United Nations. India often flexed its military muscle in the subcontinent despite significant opposition from the U.N. In liberating Bangladesh or in sending troops to Sri Lanka, India did not ask for enabling resolutions at the U.N. It exercised its own strategic judgment and took political risks in what it saw as its sphere of influence.[9]

It stands to reason that by participating in the reconstruction of Iraq, the international community will actually be ensuring that the ‘stabilization force’ in the country doesn’t end up only as an affair of the ‘occupying forces’. Short of being part of a UN peacekeeping mission in Iraq (something that has not materialized), this is the best way to help a nation crippled by war. So despite the Indian Parliament (rightly) passing a unanimous resolution against the US-led war in Iraq, sending troops now won’t be against the spirit of the earlier Indian stand.[10] And these decisions need be taken on the basis of best national interest for as Lord Palmerston once said, said, in international relations, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

[1] The Hindu 14 April 2003

[2] Semantic truce , The Pioneer, 9 April 2003

[3] K. Subrahmanyam, Criticise, not Condemn: India Must Tread Softly on Iraq War, The Times of India, 7 April 2003

[4] India can be a model for Iraq: Chalabi , The Hindu, 14 April 2003

[5] C. Raja Mohan, The Hindu, 20 April 2003

[6] The Times of India, 27 April 2003

[7] K. K. Katyal, India’s stand on Iraq The Hindu, 7 April 2003

[8] Aunohita Majumdar, India may join US forces in Iraq, The Times of India 23 May 2003; . Raja Mohan, India to decide on role in Iraq, The Hindu , 23 May 2003; With UN sanctions gone India may contribute troops in Iraq, Hindustan Times, 24 May 2003

[9] C. Raja Mohan, India’s decision time on Iraq, The Hindu, 26 May 2003

[10] Troop in, don’t stay out, Editorial, Hindustan Times, 29 May 2003

Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya