New Delhi, March 20: An hour after India expressed “deepest anguish” over the military action in Iraq, George W. Bush called Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to explain what led the US to go to war.
Soon after his conversation with the US President, Vajpayee decided to convene an all-party meeting this weekend to share with the Opposition what Bush has told him and explain India’s stand.
Despite its mild criticism — Delhi had said the war lacked justification and could have been avoided — the government in a cleverly-worded statement tried to draw a distinction between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people.
“We sincerely hope that the Iraqi people will not be subject to further hardships, sufferings, loss of lives and damage to property from an extended military operation,” the statement said.
“The international community must already begin large-scale effort to alleviate the human suffering. India will be ready to play its part in such an effort.”
The statement, issued by the foreign ministry, is more in line with the American argument justifying the war on Iraq. The Bush administration for the past several days has been saying a regime change in Baghdad would improve the lot of Iraq’s citizens.
In the morning, the Prime Minister convened a meeting of his senior Cabinet colleagues and advisers to assess the development in Iraq and discuss what India’s response should be.
The meeting was attended by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, finance minister Jaswant Singh, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
Once it was known that the US had started military action on Iraq, the focus was on to what extent India should criticise the US without jeopardising bilateral ties.
Walking the diplomatic tightrope, the statement said: “India recognises the full force and validity of the objective of the international community to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery” which it argued was “set out” in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441.
“It is a matter of grave concern that continuing differences within the Security Council prevented a harmonisation of the positions of its members, resulting in seriously impairing the authority of the UN system,” the statement said.
“The military action begun today thus lacks justification. It also appears from the various pronouncements of Dr Hans Blix and Dr Al Baradei that military action was avoidable,” it added.
This is the farthest India has come to criticise the US action. The statement, however, avoids mentioning the US by name, only criticising the action by inference.