The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi waits & watches on Iraq

New Delhi, Oct. 13: India has decided to play safe in the wake of the Bush administration’s diplomatic overdrive to garner support for armed action against Saddam Hussein.

For once, South Block is waiting to see how other countries shape their policies before sticking its neck out in support of the current regime in Iraq.

The cautious approach stems from experience. In recent years, none of the members of the UN Security Council — which apart from the US includes Russia, the UK, France and China — has taken a stand opposing Washington.

Britain has established itself as one of America’s staunchest allies. But the rest, despite often adopting tough public postures, have ultimately caved in to US pressure. Their track record is so pathetic that in the last 10 years or so, not a single resolution moved by America in the Security Council has been vetoed by the other members.

The farthest that China, France and Russia have gone is abstain from voting on a resolution initiated by the US.

On the face of it, Delhi, like many others, has been insisting that the Security Council decide Saddam’s fate and it should not be a unilateral decision of America.

But the realisation is fast dawning on policy makers here that Washington, eager to step up the pressure on Iraq, may not wait very long for the UN body to reach a decision.

Over the past few weeks, India has started shifting a little from its initial stand against armed action and its argument that a “regime change” should only be brought about by Iraqis and not imposed from outside.

South Block officials are not as forthcoming in opposing armed action as they were till a few days back.

India has made it clear that it was also opposed to weapons of mass destruction and if Iraq had any such stockpiles, it should immediately surrender them. The emphasis now is on finding an amicable resolution of the crisis through the UN and support for the move that will allow the inspectors to return to Iraq.

France, Russia and China have also made it clear they are opposed to another war with Iraq which, they argue, would have an adverse impact in the region as well as in other parts of the world. But they, too, realise that if push comes to shove, America might still go ahead with its tough line and not stop pursuing a military solution.

As for India, Iraq is important for a number of reasons. It is dependent on Baghdad for its energy requirements and there are a large number of Indians working in Iraq and the Gulf region. Delhi also hopes good relations with Iraq will help it clinch major contracts for re-building the nation.

A war in Iraq will seriously jeopardise this and also adversely affect the normal supply of petroleum.

But India has learnt from past mistakes. In 1991, I.K. Gujral, as the country’s foreign minister, had gone to Baghdad and hugged Saddam during the height of the Gulf War. It took Delhi years to repair the damage in its relations, particularly with the West, because of that action.

South Block is aware that its silence now may be seen in some quarters as towing the American line. But, at the same time, it is not willing to take a stand that could disappoint Washington.

India is, therefore, trying to find a middle path. A stand that will not isolate it from either side and help it play the role of a responsible nation.

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