September 27, 2002
In a Trap on Iraq
the beat of America's war-drums against Iraq gets louder, the Indian
government finds itself in an untenably contradictory situation:
should it support a United Nations-endorsed attack against Iraq's
"terrorist" Saddam Hussein regime, as part of US President
George W. Bush's "global war against terrorism", which
it zealously and unconditionally welcomed a year ago? Or should
it maintain a distance from virulently anti-Iraq moves and call
for a diplomatic solution to the problem posed by Baghdad's search
for a capacity to make weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)?
Delhi's dilemma is leading it to shift from a formal stance opposing
war against Iraq to a position of ambiguity, sometimes even paralysis.
Thus, early in September, Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha conveyed
to US Secretary of State Colin Powell India's view cautioning against
the use of force, in particular a "pre-emptive" attack.
But during his United Nations address on September 13, Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee carefully avoided any mention of Iraq although
he spoke on a range of issues besides India and Pakistan.
Vajpayee government is coming under increasing pressure from the
pro-US Right in India to move from ambiguity to a position of tacit
or overt support for a war against Iraq. This is a minority view.
But supplementing the pressure is the pro-Zionist and anti-Islamic
ideological orientation of the Right-wing of the Hindu-chauvinist
Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the ruling coalition in India.
This faction is instinctively hostile to Saddam Hussein.
has traditionally had good relations with Baghdad. It has been one
of the biggest buyers of Iraqi oil through long-term contracts.
It has for years opposed the harsh sanctions against Iraq and supplied
food and medicines to it in the recent past. Officials say India
has lost about $30 billion in missed exports and trade opportunities
owing to the sanctions over the past decade.
the other hand, New Delhi also fervently seeks a "strategic
partnership" with the US, which it sees as crucial to advancing
its interests in South Asia, which it links to isolating its rival
the choice is the fact that Iraq is one of the few countries of
the world and in West Asia to support India's proclaimed stand on
Kashmir, namely that Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part
the Vajpayee government resolves the dilemma remains clouded in
confusion. But it is abundantly clear that its dilemma will become
increasingly acute if the US moves towards extending the "anti-terror"
war to Iraq and overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime.
with the "threat" posed by Iraq is the only major
issue in foreign or strategic policy on which the Vajpayee government
and the Republican administration both conservative in orientation have
differed significantly ever since Bush came to power. Otherwise,
New Delhi has strongly supported some of Bush's most aggressively
unilateralist moves, especially those targeting arms control agreements
in respect of WMDs. Such support militates against India's own long-standing
declared positions against WMD proliferation and militarisation
instance, India was the first state in the world, not excluding
America's most loyal European allies, to greet Bush's May 2001 speech
announcing "Star Wars" or ballistic missile defence plans which
India had opposed for a quarter-century. Once Non-Aligned India
also found itself on the same side as the US in opposing the Landmines
Ban, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which the US signed, unlike
India), and the International Criminal Court, which both governments
oppose tooth and nail.
the issue of a possible war on Iraq, the Indian government (and
the public) is worried at the likely negative fallout: a rise in
the prices of oil India now imports 70 percent of its requirements,
unlike 10 years ago , political instability in Iraq's neighbourhood
stretching all the way to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the
impact of the war and the attendant turmoil on the economy of the
are 3.1 million Indians in the Gulf although only some 8,000 in
Iraq itself whose annual $6 billion-plus remittances are far more
important to the Indian economy than all the foreign direct investment
flows into the country put together.
more important is the likelihood that an unjust war on Iraq, lacking
a casus belli, will trigger powerful resentment in the Arab
and the larger Muslim world. This is bound to spill over into South
Asia, fuelling extreme discontent and "terrorism" or irrational
forms of violent action, thus further exacerbating an already volatile
the calculus of self-interest alone should lead New Delhi to take
a clear stand against a war on Iraq. India has also been a champion
of multilateralism and of the principle that diplomatic means must
be exhausted before force is used in international relations. This
too would militate against supporting war on Iraq especially when
Baghdad has agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors unconditionally.
India increasingly hesitates and vacillates on the issue because
it is preoccupied with improving relations with the US, obsessed
with Pakistan, and looks at the world through a prism to which the
India-Pakistan-US triangle is absolutely central.
is itself linked to India's policy shift away from Non-Alignment
over the past decade. This is explained by four factors: policy
disorientation produced by the collapse of the Soviet Union; Rightward
shifts in Indian society, economy and politics during the 1990s,
which brought the Hindu neofascist Bharatiya Janata Party into power;
India's attempt to "normalise" itself after the opprobrium
it attracted owing to the May 1998 nuclear tests; and the BJP's
very special pro-American orientation (going back to the Cold War
days), reinforced by its uncritical support for corporate globalisation
abroad and for neoliberal policies domestically.
to September 11 last year, Indian leaders had hoped that the new
"strategic partnership" between the two "natural
allies" and great "democracies" would politically
marginalise Pakistan, which after May 1998 faced aid withdrawal,
capital flight and economic near-collapse. This would greatly help
India end "cross-border terrorism", i.e. violence by militant
groups, supported and armed by Islamabad, especially in Kashmir.
with September 11, Pakistan under Gen Pervez Musharraf made a quick
U-turn on its Afghanistan policy, ditched its creation, the Taliban,
and became the US's critical ally in the war to dislodge the Al-Qaeda-Taliban
caused much heartburn in New Delhi, which instead advocated an "alliance
between democracies" to combat "terrorism" in vain.
It has since made the most of being "terrorism's" biggest
victim and tried to win the US's support in fighting Pakistan. In
December, it launched a huge mobilisation at the Pakistan border
with 700,000 troops in Rambo-style retaliation for an attack on
its Parliament for which it blamed Islamabad.
US has expressed verbal sympathy for India. It did not ask it to
withdraw the troops at the border. But it has counselled restraint pulling
India and Pakistan from the brink of war, with a distinct potential
for nuclear escalation.
is resentment in New Delhi at this lack of "full-throated"
US support to India and at America's continued dependence on Gen.
Musharraf for mopping up Al-Qaeda-Taliban elements. This is compounded
by Washington's reluctance to approve the sale of critical Israeli
weapons to India in spite of India's tacit support for Ariel Sharon's
aggressive anti-Palestinian policies, in departure from its traditional
stance in favour of a Palestinian state.
crisis over Iraq amidst this situation has to an extent polarised
Indian policy-makers and -shapers. On one side are those who would
like to return to India's "traditional" positions on international
relations, with an emphasis on multilateralism and opposition to
the use of force as the preferred method of resolving conflict.
They would like New Delhi to distance itself from a war on Iraq.
They hope that the European Union states, especially France and
Germany, as well as China and Russia, will somehow restrain the
against them is the obsequiously pro-US lobby, which wants India
to become America's pro-active ally in anti-Iraq operations. This
lobby argues that the "realities of power" dictate that
India should accept that "multilateralism is dead" and
fall in line with the world's sole superpower.
lobby is not unanimous in buying the US-UK argument that Iraq already
possesses mass-destruction weapons or is about to get them. But
it is united in asking that New Delhi declare its support to the
US, no matter how blatantly it manipulates the Security Council.
elements in the group urged Vajpayee to openly support Bush's "pre-emption"
doctrine during his recent US visit both to indicate loyalty to
America and to create a precedent for a future Indian armed attack
is the first time that such views have been openly aired in the
Indian media an indication of the distance travelled since 1991
when it was hard to find any commentator even vaguely sympathetic
to the official US viewpoint on the Gulf War.
"traditional" or "middle path" view, opposing
an attack on Iraq, may well prevail over the pro-America lobby in
the short run at the level of proclaimed positions. But if
the US moves towards full-fledged war, then what will matter more
is what India does.
1991, India first cautioned against the Gulf War and temporarily
maintained relative neutrality. This was itself a shift away from
its support for Saddam Hussein even after he invaded Kuwait graphically
captured in the image of foreign minister I.K. Gujral hugging Saddam.
But within a few months, the US prevailed upon India to signal its
support for the war by refuelling US warplanes on Indian soil. The
refuelling was not a strategic necessity, but a political move.
seems unlikely this time around that India will be able to withstand
US pressure no matter what Indian interests dictate.
520 South Murphy Avenue #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server Credit Card Donation Form
contributions are tax-deductible