The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US ties force Delhi to walk Iraq tightrope

New Delhi, March 16: India’s muted criticism of America’s war-mongering in Iraq can be traced to its fear of jeopardising “excellent” relations with the US and its refusal to create a situation where Pakistan may have an edge in dealing with the Bush administration.

“We don’t want to become vassals of the US. Neither do we want to declare our criticism of the Americans from the rooftops,” a senior leader said. He said Delhi’s nuances in its stand on the crisis were based on “safeguarding national interests and not on the ideology of the Cold War”.

South Block is worried public criticism of the US stand on Iraq may cast a shadow on its relations with the Americans and also stem the upswing in their ties.

Delhi also needs Washington solidly behind it if its Kashmir policy is to be heard by the international community and to ensure Pakistan is not given any leeway to increase militant activities in the strife-torn state and elsewhere in the country.

India’s stand on Iraq is based on four elements. First, it wants a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis. Second, it wants the UN to take the final decision on what needs to be done about Iraq.

Third, it wants Iraq’s “full and complete” compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1441. And fourth, it wants the sanctions on Iraq lifted once the UN is satisfied about Baghdad’s compliance with the resolution.

The US does not appear to have a problem with the Indian stand. Senior US officials have, in fact, emphasised that Delhi’s and Washington’s positions on the crisis are almost identical.

Whether this is an exaggeration or not, indications are clear the US administration is more satisfied and happy with the Indian stand than that of some of its Western allies.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee told Parliament recently that the country must take “the middle path”. This, in effect, means that though Delhi talks of a peaceful resolution of the crisis, it stops short of an anti-war stand.

Moreover, its opposition to “unilateralism” in favour of UN’s “multilateralism” is combined with the stress on “Iraq’s complete and full compliance” with resolution 1441.

In the entire statement of the Prime Minister, the US has not been named even once. This is a deliberate move as even at the recent Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kuala Lumpur, India played a key role in ensuring the US was not named in the resolution on Iraq passed by the developing countries.

Indian leaders have been “more candid” in expressing their views on the Iraqi crisis during private conversations with US leaders, sources say.

During his recent telephone conversation with President George W. Bush, Vajpayee made it clear that India would not be able to support Washington if it went ahead with military action against Iraq without the Council’s approval.

Vajpayee also did not hesitate to point out that Bush’s proposed tough action would “enrage” a large number of people both within and outside India, particularly Muslims.

Indian leaders want to make it clear that those opposing the US stand should be objective in their views on the Iraqi President. “Saddam Hussein is no angel and this is something we should not forget. But that does not mean we support the proposed military action of the US in Iraq,” a senior Indian leader said.

Another reason for India’s guarded criticism of the US is the likelihood of a last-minute “patch-up” between Washington and its Western allies.

But even if the US goes to war without UN approval, India may have to be more vocal in its criticism of the US action. This worries South Block as India would then be forced to abandon its “middle-path”.

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