The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US team on Iraq mission to Delhi

New Delhi, June 12: A Pentagon team is arriving here on Monday for talks on India’s decision to send troops to join America’s stabilisation force in Iraq.

The government has not yet announced that it is committing troops to the US effort. But that the three-member Pentagon team — headed by assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs Peter Rodman — is visiting to discuss the issue is clear enough indication that New Delhi has taken a decision.

The number and the command and control structure of the Indian troops will be discussed in detail at Monday’s meeting with South Block officials.

The issue has figured in talks that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has had with President George W. Bush and other key figures in Washington over the past few days.

But the Centre has not taken a public stand yet.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has invited leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi and some of her Congress colleagues for talks on Sunday, a day before the Pentagon team lands. This is being seen as an attempt to reach a consensus on the sensitive issue before going public.

The Congress, like most other Opposition parties, is against India sending troops to Iraq under the American command.

The United Nations Security Council has, helpfully, given its nod by asking member nations to assist the US and Britain in bringing peace and stability to war-ravaged Iraq.

India has welcomed the Security Council resolution and might use this as its key argument to turn around the Opposition.

But hiding behind the UN fig-leaf can only solve one problem. The government is also in a spot over the role that the troops will play. Unlike in most UN campaigns, the Indian forces will not be peacekeepers in Iraq, but peace-enforcers.

The BJP government, which is already labelled anti-Muslim and pro-America, is worried that if the troops are involved in a situation where they have to use force to maintain peace, it could have an adverse impact within the country and jeopardise India’s position in the Islamic world.

Indications are that the Americans plan to divide Iraq into five administered sectors, on the lines of what was done in Berlin after Germany’s defeat in World War II.

Each of the proposed sectors in Iraq is likely to be run by a different country. So far, the British, the Poles and the South Koreans have offered their troops. The US is keen that India be the fifth country in the security force.

Irrespective of what America calls the proposed force, any troops that join it will be seen as an “occupation army”.

Moreover, India is not sure what kind of a picture will finally emerge from Iraq and how effective the interim arrangement will be in maintaining peace and stability.

But if Delhi drags its feet for long, it will give Pakistan a chance to offer its troops to the US. A situation may then be created that gives the Musharraf government an edge over Delhi in dealing with the Americans and strengthen its credentials as a reliable ally.

Officials said these points could form the basis of the argument that the Prime Minister is likely to build in his attempt to get the Congress to support his decision to send troops to Iraq.

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