The request made by the United States of America to the Indian Government

The request made by the United States of America to the Indian government for the participation of Indian military personnel.

The request made by the United States of America to the Indian government for the participation of Indian military personnel, particularly ground troops, in the post-war peace maintenance operations in Iraq has led to considerable debate in our country. Whilst the government is yet to give a firm commitment, and has indicated that the prime minister will meet the leader of opposition, Smt Sonia Gandhi, to arrive at a consensual Indian position, there are obvious indications of a tilt towards accepting the US request. The congress party has already indicated its prima-facie position that there can be no question of Indian troops serving under US command.

Besides the established position that Indian troops traditionally go beyond our shares under the UN flag, it is also now important to understand why the United States Army wants some one else to take the possibly thankless responsibility of maintaining peace in Iraq devoid of a government and subject to very little governance. Although the first Gulf War, the operations in Afghanistan, and now the rout of Sadam Hussain, are all conspicuous military successes of United States that have begun to wipe off the unpleasant memories of defeat in Vietnam, the fact remains that both in Afghanistan and Iraq the hold of victorious US forces is precarious and clearly limited to certain core areas only. It is more than apparent that the weapons of mass destruction, in whose name the war was declared on Iraq, do not exist. It is also quite apparent that from the US point of view the war was unavoidable except in the case of a complete involuntary surrender by Saddan Hussain. President George Bush had an agenda to fulfill, based on unilateral global domination and securing oil supplies from Iraq for a stressed US economy.

Just as the reasons for the inevitability of war are not far seek, it is also that despite weeks and months of preparation, the United States their precious little to prepare contingency plans for a post Saddan Iraq. The situation is messy to say the least. No amount of public relations exercises and carefully projected media stories will not convince the discerning people of the world that the sense of emancipation from the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussain is accompanied by a widespread sense of public gratitude and appreciation towards the United States of America. Contrast this with the overwhelming welcome given to Indian troops who marched into Dhaka along with the Mukti Bahini volunteers to accept the surrender of Pakistani forces. That there was a popular government in exile and a charismatic personality like Sheikh Mujeeb leading the independence movement obviously made it possible for a Bangla Deshi government to be installed and for Indian troops to withdrew immediately. Despite the overwhelming convergence of motives and objectives between Bangla Desh and India, we have seen in subsequent years events both disappointing and distressing.

In Afghanistan the appeared some semblance of an alternative Afgan government based largely on traditional structures. But we all know that President Karzai's writ is shaky and uncertain. Post Saddam, Iraq is ironically faced with the disadvantage of being a modern secular society that has long left traditional structures behind. No automatic alternative government seems possible and attempts to bring back leadership from years of exile do not seem to be working either. On the other hand even western channels are being forced to show Iraqi citizens demanding an Iraqi government, expressing explicit opinion about American presence being unwanted, and scenes of disorder threatening to deteriorate into civil war.

The Americans planned a war that was designed to be low on casualties and are hardly likely to revise that after the fall of Saddam Hussain. Many questions about WMD and Iraqi links with Al-Qaida and Taliban are being asked in the US. The democrats have even voiced the demand for an enquiry into the manner in which the war on Iraq was sold to the public of the US. Similarly Prime Minister Blare is beginning to feel the heat despite the remarkable raze in his popularity graph after the end of hostilities in Iraq. All in all, the war on Iraq continues to be seen as a clear manifestation of United State arrogating it self the role of the sole arbiter of international order and an autonomous another of new rules of international law. Sheer force and American bluster, as indeed some inherent weakness in the Baathist Iraq, allowed US to have its way. The resistance by countries like France and Germany has also being overtaken by events and pragmatic politics. But the legitimacy and morality of what happened in Iraq is far from established and accepted. Furthermore in the build up to the war, India clearly had reservations about the US position but was not given the importance that it deserves. To fall back now on India to clean up the mess and indeed to burden it with physical and political casualties is hardly fair. It is not at all clear that the United State is prepared to accept equal participation in decision making in planning for the future of Afghanistan. Therefore for India to commit its troops for an action plan that we do not know, in the company of troops that are perceived as being an occupation force etc. would not only be in advisable but also put a permanent question mark and India's aspirations for world leadership. Considering the fact that the United Nations too is being kept somewhat at an arms length and there is little indication that the US is prepared to treat the Iraq war episode as an exception of compulsion and willing to revert back to truly multilateral management of the Iraq crises by the UN, India cannot and must not be seen directly or indirectly endorsing this attempt to permanently by pass the United Nations.

One argument that has to be met is the argument of pragmatic diplomacy, i.e. willing and enthusiastic response to the American request would add a feather in India's cap and fortify its case for greater American support in the matter of cross border terrorism. This again is wishful thinking. Over the past months since Kabul fell to the American forces and Al-Qaida vanished into the tribal areas of Pakistan, there has neither been a discernible change in the ground situation in the matter of terrorism propagated against India, nor a categorical commitment that the US will walk the last mile to ensure that the roots of terrorism are destroyed. There is ofcourse considerable friendly talk, many assurances, unprecedented attention and courtesies, but the bottom line of continuing civilian and service casualties in Jammu and Kashmir remains substantially unchanged.

The war in Iraq, despite all explanations and allusions to India's own concerns about terrorism, was not seen in India, as battle of our seeking. We should neither be interested in the spoils of that war and nor should we subject ourselves to the indignity of cleaning up the debris. Indeed we should insist upon immediate United Nations intervention and plan to put Iraq on the path of posterity, peace, and democracy. To be part of that UN effort will not only be appropriate for India but Indeed an obligation that we should willingly embrace. Till then the answer should be clear and categorical: no, we are friends of the people of Iraq and it would not behove us to police them under the direction, command, and control of US Generals.