The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flip-flop test for US ties

New Delhi, April 7: The Centre appears to be in danger of falling foul of both the US and the Indian people with its inconsistent stand on the Iraq war.

In the run-up to the war, Delhi had stuck to a “middle path”, emphasising a peaceful resolution under the aegis of the UN while insisting that Saddam Hussein fully comply with the UN resolutions.

When the war began, Delhi’s criticism of the US move continued to be muted. Over the past few days, however, the Centre has been inclined to toughen its stand against the US policy.

The government, engaged in a hard bargain with the Opposition on the wording of the proposed Parliamentary resolution on Iraq, may end up with fewer friends in the US irrespective of whether it “deplores” or “condemns” the war.

The Vajpayee government’s Iraq war policy reminds some foreign policy experts of Delhi’s stance during the 1991 Gulf war. After allowing the US to land and refuel in the country, then foreign minister I.K. Gujral went and hugged Saddam Hussein.

As a result, Delhi gained nothing, either from the US or from Saddam’s Iraq. “The Vajpayee government also appears to be falling between two stools,” a foreign policy expert said.

“When you know for sure which is the winning side, why do you have to take a stand that might jeopardise your relations with the US'” the expert said.

Many senior officials in South Block, too, have raised doubts in private about the Centre’s wisdom in changing its Iraq stand. “If we had to take a tough line, we should have taken it when the rest of the world opinion was against a war in Iraq. Why do we have to shift our stand now'” they ask.

According to indications, the Centre decided to shift its stand after gauging the public’s changing mood. This was reflected in the recently-concluded BJP national executive in Indore, where the party passed a resolution deploring the US’ military action.

Political observers also doubt if the Centre will make any substantial gains domestically with a tough stand on the war.

It had recently turned down the Opposition’s demand for a Parliamentary resolution condemning the US-led war. If the Centre now agrees to a resolution, the Opposition will walk away with the credit.

The Centre’s gradual about-turn has coincided with Washington’s familiar stand on Pakistan-backed terrorist killings in Kashmir.

After failing to get support from the West, particularly the US, on taking “pre-emptive action” against the Pervez Musharraf regime, Delhi appears to have vented its anger by turning critical of the US military action in Iraq.

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