The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi hunt for post-Saddam Iraq envoy

New Delhi, April 6: It is not being made official, but India has started looking for a special envoy for Iraq.

The search for the right candidate, who will not only safeguard but also further India’s interest in post-Saddam Iraq, has sparked off hectic lobbying between serving officials of the foreign ministry and retired Indian diplomats.

Former diplomats who have shown interest or are being considered for the job include R.S. Kalha, Prakash Shah, K.V. Rajan, and K.N. Bakshi. Names of some serving officials, including R.M. Abhayankar, Mahesh Sachdeva and R. Dayakar, are also doing the rounds. All these officials have either served in Iraq as ambassadors or have directly dealt with the country.

The Vajpayee government has been under domestic pressure for its mild response to the US aggression in Iraq. Over the past few days, there has been a marked shift from its earlier stand of pursuing a “middle path” on Iraq as senior BJP leaders have now started openly criticising the US’ role in Baghdad.

The government, thus, would like to keep its search for a special envoy on Iraq a secret at this juncture.

Officially, South Block maintains that no decision on appointing a special envoy has yet been taken.

“It is too early to think about such things now,” a senior foreign ministry official said. One reason for a guarded response on the delicate issue could be the government’s fear of coming under fire from Opposition parties in Parliament, scheduled to begin its session tomorrow after a three-week recess.

When the US-initiated military action drove out the Taliban from Kabul, India had appointed S.K. Lambah, a retired diplomat, as its special envoy for Afghanistan. Lambah’s job was mainly to coordinate with other world players on reconstruction work in the war-ravaged country and represent India in meetings on issues relating to Afghanistan in the absence of an ambassador in Kabul.

The situation in Iraq is, however, different. India has a full-fledged ambassador in Baghdad — who has temporarily shifted base to Jordan — and no one is quite sure how long it will take the Americans to get rid of Saddam Hussein and take control of Iraq.

Moreover, a clear picture on the future regime in Baghdad and to what extent it can bring stability in the country has not yet emerged.

However, insiders in the ministry argued that it is better for India to be prepared to deal with the emerging situation and make arrangements to take care of its own interests. The Iraqi government owes Indian companies nearly $1.5 billion for construction and other works done in the country.

Nearly $3 million are also due to Indian labourers who worked in Iraq. This apart, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (Videsh) had been given a lucrative oil exploration deal in “Block Eight” in western Iraq by the Saddam regime. India hopes the new regime will honour the commitments of its predecessor.

India also hopes that, after the regime change, the US and British governments will look after its interest and award significant contracts to Indian companies for reconstruction of the country. A special envoy may come in handy to take care of all these interests and also to deal with representatives of key countries on the emerging scenario in the region.

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