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WORDS ON THE WAR

Diplomacy and pragmatism are often a way of putting things. When pressed with the need to frame an all-party resolution on the attack on Iraq, India is faced with some sort of a linguistic schism. Consensus on this matter has been stalled because the Centre wants to be heard as “deploring” the war in a state of “anguish”, whereas the opposition wants to “condemn” it more unequivocally. The prime minister is particularly good at dealing with such rhetorical crises, because his favourite “middle path” is the best thing to be trod in such situations. Besides, the statement issued by the Congress also avoids mentioning the United States of America directly. A few things are clear. First, India has refused to expel some Iraqi diplomats from the embassy in Delhi, as requested by the US. This does indeed amount to some sort of a stand, supplementing the more cautiously worded statement from the prime minister. Second, India’s declared position with respect to the United Nations has remained consistent through the various statements made before and at the onset of the war.

But this tightrope-walking, and the prime minister’s insistence on maintaining diplomatic restraint, points up the pragmatics of India’s position in relation to both the Iraq war and the US. First, India is justifiably unwilling to reduce its relations with the US, Britain and the others involved in the war to the single issue of the war. The stakes are far too complicated to hinge on purely a matter of principle. First, there is the question of the price of oil, and its links with the duration of the war. Second, prudent house-keeping demands that not only the opposition parties but the elements within the Indian Muslim community strongly opposing the war will have to be reckoned with when articulating the official position on the war. Third, India’s position will also have to signal its difference from Pakistan’s, but without seriously upsetting the politic balance with the US. Besides, India’s stand on Iraq could determine the international community’s stand on Kashmir in the post-war future. The prime minister’s rhetorical abilities should be quite up to picking a way through this minefield.

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