Critical moment for India

Published : Jul 04, 2003 00:00 IST

Heavy U.S. pressure to despatch troops to Iraq poses a serious test for the independence of India's foreign and security policies; New Delhi's response to the pressure will determine its future stance on America's plans for a global Empire.

HOWEVER strenuously Lal Krishna Advani may deny it, it is clear that the Bush administration has mounted serious pressure on his government to despatch troops to Iraq to assist the forces occupying that country. This was the highlight of Advani's discussions with American leaders from Day One of his visit to the United States. Whether it was President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, the message was the same.

The message is: The demand to send troops to Iraq is a "litmus test" and also a "historic" chance for India. If it wants to become a major "strategic partner" of the U.S. and a great power, then it must think big - in "realistic" post-Cold War terms - stop whining about hegemonism and the unequal global order; forget non-alignment and multilateralism; and accept that the "unipolar moment" that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is going to last a long, long time. The 21st century will be an American century. The best way India can acknowledge this is by doing what most of America's own Western partners have refused to do - send armed personnel to Iraq as part of a "stabilising" force.

According to sources close to Advani quoted by The Indian Express, Rumsfeld during his June 8 meeting with Advani (much tom-tommed by the Indian media because Rumsfeld visited Advani's hotel on a Sunday - as it turns out, because he was too busy to see him on a weekday) listed three "advantages" for India if it participates in the "peace-keeping" effort: "One, it would enable India to become an active partner in the global war against terror and become the third important player in the exercise after the U.S. and Britain. Two, it would boost India's overall standing in the Gulf region. Three, India would be able to join Iraq's reconstruction", which would yield big economic gains.

Advani reportedly told Rumsfeld that India was not averse to the proposal but wanted certain concerns addressed before the Vajpayee Cabinet approved it. These pertain to the chain of command under which Indian troops would work, the duration of their stay, the administrative structures in Iraq, and the U.S. road map for eventual transfer of power to the Iraqis. Advani voiced some of these while meeting Bush. Bush instantly declared that he would despatch a team of senior U.S. officials to New Delhi the following Monday.

As this is written, on the eve of that visit, the Vajpayee government seems inclined to do Washington's bidding. Various industry lobbies - misled into believing that an Indo-U.S. deal on Iraq would produce contracts running into tens of billions for India - are mounting pressure on the government. They are backed by what must be called the counsel of despair and defeat proffered by slavishly pro-American elements in the foreign policy establishment and the media who, citing "pragmatism", maintain that India has no other option; it must make the best of any political-diplomatic and economic deals that come out of Iraq's occupation, however immoral or illegal it is.

The real driving force here is not this or that lobby, but the basic orientation of the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership, backed by officials in South Block and the Prime Minister's Office. This favours a special, exclusive, intimate "strategic partnership" with Washington and sees a long-term confluence of economic, political and strategic interests between the U.S. and India.

Arrayed against this group is Indian public opinion, which overwhelmingly opposed Iraq's invasion, and most political parties, including some which are in the National Democratic Alliance (for instance, the Samata Party). It is a safe bet that most people who thought Iraq's invasion was unjust would also oppose any legitimisation of its occupation. There is reason to believe that the media seriously under-reported the extent of popular opposition to the war. Protests against it were widespread: from Machchlishahar in Uttar Pradesh to Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and from Goa to Guwahati. Perhaps 500 Indian cities and towns witnessed demonstrations and vigils, although there was no single national-level "big event".

The Left parties have, expectedly, been critical of the move to send troops to Iraq. The Congress(I) too took a stand against it, although it stressed procedural issues (because the proposal came from the U.S., and not the United Nations) more than its substance and purpose. There are disturbing indications, though, that the Congress is preparing to dilute that stand.

Any number of BJP leaders from Vajpayee to Arun Jaitley have been pleading for a comprehensive, wide-ranging, U.S.-India alliance. Advani is only the latest to sing paeans to "similarities" between India and the U.S. as "two natural democracies". In Washington, he praised the relationship "developing between our two countries, which is powerfully reflected" in Bush's National Security Strategy. Obliquely referring to Pakistan, he added: "It is not an alliance of convenience. It is a principled relationship between the world's largest democracies."

Advani further spelt out the Islamic jehad-specific rationale of the Indo-U.S. alliance: "India and the U.S. have to work in active partnership to defeat the menace of terrorism fuelled by religious extremism. [J]ehadi terrorism is a threat not only to [our] security... but to peace and tranquillity around the world." Advani has since accused critics of the troops-despatch proposal of issuing a "one-sided fatwa without seeking any information on the issue".

AT a fundamental level, what the traditionally conservative Hindutva leaders share with U.S. neo-conservatives is not just a general policy orientation, but a commitment to a "warfare state" - an order obsessed with "national security" and maintenance of a permanent state of armed preparedness against known and unknown "threats", in which people's rights can be crushed and their aspirations for a just, equal and cohesive society abandoned. Nothing unites the two conservative groups closer than their characterisation of "terrorism" (always defined irrationally as sub-state terrorism alone) as the greatest threat to the world, which must be put down ruthlessly - even if that means violating the principle that no one must be assumed to be guilty unless proved so beyond reasonable doubt.

What we are likely to witness is a contest of wills between the pro-American, hegemony-loving, pro-"warfare" conservative elite, and the Indian people, for whom questions of morality, balance and justice are supremely important, not "interests", "advantages" and "benefits".

However this contest is resolved, one thing is abundantly clear. It would be grievously wrong for India to send its soldiers to occupied Iraq. Indian troops will not be peacekeepers, but junior partners of the occupying powers. The occupation follows an invasion, which violated all criteria of "just war", including military necessity, non-combatant immunity, proportional use of force, and so on. An irredeemably illegal invasion cannot produce a just and legal occupation. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme posed no credible threat to its neighbours, leave alone the U.S. Even two months after U.S. troops captured Iraq, they have found no WMD.

Now, it turns out, the U.S. and British governments spiced up, distorted and exaggerated intelligence reports on Iraq. This has embarrassed the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and MI-6. Even Richard Butler, an unabashed war supporter, and former U.N. weapons inspector says: "Clearly, a decision had been taken to pump up the case against Iraq."

New evidence is accumulating of this deliberate, planned abuse of intelligence reports and material gathered (such as by The New York Times) from "confidential" sources (such as the thoroughly discredited Ahmed Chalabi). Apart from plagiarising a 13-year-old academic paper, the Blair government ran a covert "dirty tricks" operation "designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence" so as "to give the U.K. a justifiable excuse to wage war", according to Britain's Sunday Herald. "Operation Rockingham" was set up to "cherry-pick" intelligence to prove an "active Iraqi WMD programme" and to "ignore and quash" reports that pointed to different conclusions.

The Anglo-American crisis of credibility about claims regarding Iraq's WMD is so grave that Blair is unlikely to be able to lend British support to another U.S.-led invasion. Paul Wolfowitz - a prominent neo-conservative ideologue, and author of many recommendations to invade Iraq even before September 11 - now admits that Bush's WMD claim was essentially a bureaucratic "excuse". Revealingly, U.S. official jargon on Iraq has shifted from "WMD" to the much more ambivalent "WMD programmes".

A war that was based on falsehood and deception, waged against international law, motivated by considerations of Empire, and which has already produced the same order of civilian casualties as New York's Twin Towers tragedy, cannot lead to a military occupation that is just. The occupation must not be legitimated directly or indirectly - which will happen if India sends soldiers to Iraq, no matter under whose command.

WHAT compounds Washington's culpability is that it is asking other countries to pull its chestnuts out of the Iraq fire. Its own casualties are mounting as Iraqi civil unrest grows. The occupation troops are overstretched and forced to stay on longer than planned and undertake responsibilities beyond their capacity. Even close allies of the U.S., which backed the war (barring Britain), have refused to commit large numbers of troops. For instance, the Netherlands' new right-wing Atlanticist government will send only 1,100 troops - if that is approved by Parliament, which is by no means certain.

In contrast, India is being asked to commit 10,000 to 20,000 troops, which will be used as cannon fodder, and which are liable to enter into hostile confrontation with Iraqi civilians. They will also be exposed to highly toxic material like depleted uranium, which is believed to have caused the "Gulf War syndrome" among U.S. troops since 1991. There can be no moral and political justification for being a slavish partner of a hegemonic power like the U.S.

Questions such as command and control, and whom Indian troops report to, are of secondary importance. India's complicity with the U.S. would be unjustifiable even if there were a "joint command" or "all-round consultation" figleaf for it - indeed even if a manipulated U.N. Security Council approved a "stabilising" force, a euphemism for imposing despotic order upon a conquered people.

There seem to be three lines among those in the NDA government who want military collaboration with the U.S. in Iraq. There is the straightforward, crude, "common interest" line, which naively argues that India and the U.S. have an equal stake in putting down the "Axis of Evil" states; close collaboration, including sharing of military bases, is necessary. Many military leaders in both countries are inclined to this view. This line ignores the foundational divergences between U.S. and Indian interests.

The second line holds that military collaboration is fine so long as the U.S. doles out generous reconstruction contracts - something "very big", not just a few blocks for oil exploration (not development and production). But huge contracts are unlikely to materialise unless the Americans can pump much more oil out of Iraq, with which to finance large-scale reconstruction. This is unlikely for a year or longer. The big contracts will be first given to U.S. giants like Halliburton and Bechtel, and then to British firms, leaving small crumbs for bit players like India.

The third approach is the Advani line: troops despatch in exchange for a U.S. promise to pressure Pakistan to end support to "cross-border" terrorism. This too is flawed and ignores U.S. priorities. America needs Pakistan as an ally to smash the Al-Qaeda network. This will limit the amount of pressure it can exert on Islamabad. Besides, this approach poses the ticklish issue of inspection and verification. Worse, it undermines the possibility of India playing an independent or sovereign role in the future vis-{-vis an imperial U.S.

Nothing could be more shameful than that India should sacrifice its policy independence and capitulate to Empire - for minor, temporary and in some ways, illusory, gains. We citizens must prevent such capitulation by fighting in the spirit of justice and solidarity with the people of Iraq. The "warfare statists" must not be allowed to win.

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