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Watching from the margins need not be entirely devoid of advantages. India has so far chosen to strike a judicious middle-path in its comments on the Iraq war. It has not directly opposed the Anglo-American coalition; but it has also expressed the right “concerns” and “anguish” regarding the uncertain duration of the war, the debunking of the United Nations and so on. But this has been more the result of a certain diplomatic “helplessness” (as the external affairs minister has put it) which it has felt, together with other sections of the international community, regarding the futility of trying to impede the United States of America’s military will. But it appears now that this very anodyne position could be used to make a different kind of strategic and diplomatic critique — or perhaps, interrogation — of the US and the United Kingdom. And it looks like this could serve India’s “national interest” as well.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Mr Navjot Sarna, has deviated from the Indian middle-path by asking Washington why it was continuing to advocate “dialogue” between India and Pakistan when the question of dialogue did not seem to arise when dealing with Afghanistan and Iraq. This was in response to the US state department’s advocacy of dialogue as a “critical element” between India and Pakistan. This struck India as inappropriate after the latest massacre of Kashmiri Pandits, interpreted by India as yet more proof that Pakistan was not honouring its promise to stop infiltration across the line of control. Moreover, last week, from the margins of a crucial summit between the British prime minister and the American president, their respective foreign secretaries, Mr Jack Straw and Mr Colin Powell, issued a joint statement on the India-Pakistan deadlock. Mr Sarna has pointed out how this statement repudiates Pakistan’s assertion that it is not responsible for the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. This statement also suggests that the US and the UK were ready to help in bilateral peace-making between India and Pakistan. Mr Sarna has played this bit down, but Hurriyat leaders have welcomed this assurance. This statement and Mr Sarna’s question to Washington have opened out for India a way of taking its position on the Iraq war a step beyond mere neutrality. India could take this opportunity to gain some advantage for itself regarding the international community’s perception of its violent impasse with Pakistan. It could also win acknowledgement of how the anti-Iraq coalition must be implicated in this situation. And all this without seriously redefining its stance towards the war.

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