New Delhi, June 13: The US has said it is requesting India to send troops to Iraq for non-combat duties. The statement by ambassador Robert Blackwill is seen as an effort to combat opposition within the country to the proposal before a team from the Pentagon arrives on Monday to clarify questions raised by India.
“They (the troops) will not be used for combat. A decision to send them will be positive and will enhance Indo-US relationship,” Blackwill said.
Indications suggest, though there is nothing official yet, that the US wants the troops for northern Iraq, the most peaceful part in a violent country.
Objections within the ruling BJP and in the Opposition to the proposal stems from the fact that Indian troops would have to operate under US command whereas thus far they have worked in a peacekeeping role only under the UN flag.
Addressing this concern, Blackwill said Indian troops can fly their own flag. His clarifications come two days before Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee consults Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi on whether or not India should respond to the request.
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has already attributed the opposition to sending troops to uninformed opinion.
“They (the Opposition) are entitled to their views, but the government will take a decision keeping national interest in mind,” he told a TV channel.
India’s main worry stems not so much from whether the troops will be under US or UN command as from what their role will be. Delhi’s concern is that its forces will have to play the role of peace enforcers with the risk of combat.
Japan, which has been agonising over a similar proposal, today received the cabinet’s go-ahead amid fears that the country is stepping away from its pacifist constitution.
While the troops will only be sent to areas “free of military conflict”, critics have pointed to the repeated attacks on US forces in Iraq as showing there is no such thing.
Blackwill’s assurance of non-combat duties, therefore, is unlikely to allay Indian concerns.
He, however, stressed that if India refused to send troops, it would not affect relations. “There is no pressure from the US on this score. Even the deputy Prime Minister did not feel any pressure nor did we exert any,” the ambassador said, referring to Advani’s recent talks in Washington.
Pressure or not, few in Delhi believe a refusal will not have an impact on ties. India is vulnerable because of its dependence on the US on tackling what it calls cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.
If India does not respond to US need, there is no reason to expect the Americans to do so.