`Our role was limited'

Published : Apr 11, 2003 00:00 IST

Interview with Surendra K. Arora, head of the BJP's foreign affairs committee.

"How will it serve our national interest if we antagonised the U.S. on the question of Iraq? We have registered our disapproval of the war and that should be enough. Criticising the U.S. from the rooftop will not help us," says the Bharatiya Janata Party's foreign affairs cell chief, Surendra K. Arora, a retired diplomat. In his opinion, Saddam Hussein courted trouble by his errant ways. Still, he feels that war should have been the last resort, and Saddam should have been given more time. But he sounds ambiguous - he neither condemns the U.S. enough nor voices support for the Iraqi people. Instead, he betrays a lurking support for the U.S. action. In his opinion, the U.N. has been rendered totally ineffective in this crisis and it was high time the organisation was restructured to make it more relevant in the changed global situation.

Arora spoke to Purnima S. Tripathi on the U.S. action, the U.N.'s relevance in the Iraq crisis and India's role in the developments. Excerpts:

How do you view the future of multilateralism, now that the U.S. has gone to war without U.N. authorisation?

Countries go to war for various reasons. They don't necessarily seek U.N. authorisation. I don't know why this particular point is being emphasised in this case. But since the issue was before the U.N. Security Council, unilateral action should have been avoided. But, then, Saddam Hussein too did not fully cooperate with the U.N. inspectors, nor did he comply with their instructions. But I feel he should have been given some more time. Continuous monitoring of the situation by U.N. inspectors to ensure that chemical and biological weapons were not used, could have resolved the issue. We know these weapons were used against Iran. But still war should have been the last resort, no matter how strong the justification. Multilateralism will not be affected by this development because it has become a fact of life. Some organisations like the U.N. would still be required to take care of the interaction among nations.

How would you assess India's own stand in this evolving drama?

We did try to see that the war was prevented. We had discussions with other countries. But since we are not a member of the U.N. Security Council, our role was limited. This is not an issue in which our view was sought. We didn't have as much of a role to play.

What options does India have to mitigate the suffering of the Iraqi people, and repair the damage to the multilateral system?

We would like to be part of any arrangement for the reconstruction effort in Iraq. As for repairing the damage to the multilateral system, we will have to emphasise that there is a need for some restructuring of the U.N. Security Council to make it more representative. We will have to press for a permanent seat in the Security Council, so that India can play a bigger role in promoting multilateralism.

How does the performance of this government measure up in the present context?

We have taken a proper stand in accordance with our policies and the national interest.

How do you assess the U.N.'s handling of the Iraq question over the last 12 years?

The U.N. system could have been a little more effective. Issues like this should not drag on for so long. Sanctions were there for too long, hurting the Iraqi people. Some solution should have been found, some new methods should have been evolved, to bring the agony of the people to an end. Since things have changed drastically now, unless the U.N. is made fully representative, it will not be very effective in its role.

Do you think the rift between the U.S. and the European Union can be bridged?

If the war comes to an early end, the differences can be bridged without much difficulty. Even otherwise, the interests of the U.S. and the E.U. are so intertwined that differences on any single issue would be resolved before long. I don't foresee any difficulty in reconstruction efforts.

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