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Ministers off Myers’ menu

New Delhi, July 28: The senior-most military official in the US, Air Force General Richard B. Myers, today began a series of meetings with key figures in India’s defence establishment.

Despite reports that Myers’ visit to India is against the backdrop of Washington’s request to New Delhi to reconsider deploying troops in Iraq, it is of some surprise that his schedule does not include a meeting with any political leader. Official sources said a meeting with defence minister George Fernandes, too, has not been fixed.

Myers began his meetings with a half-hour session with his counterpart, the chairman, chiefs of staff committee, and navy chief Admiral Madhavendra Singh, after which he met air force chief Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy. Tomorrow morning, he will meet national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, defence secretary Ajay Prasad and army chief General .C. Vij before flying to Islamabad at noon.

Myers heads an 11-member team that flew in here from Baghdad. Officially, the team was here to brief the military establishment on the US perception of events in Iraq. However, with the Cabinet Committee on Security having said on July 14 that India could consider deployment of troops in Iraq “were there to be an explicit UN mandate for the purpose”, the military establishment cannot air views of its assessment independently.

Even at the level of individuals, Myers is unlikely to be comfortable with the reading of the Iraq situation by some of the top brass in the Indian military. Myers’ counterpart, Admiral Singh, had obliquely commented on the US presence in Iraq at a seminar last week when he said its “consequence management” was questionable.

The military is also clear that even if a nominally independent chain of command were to be assured to it in Iraq, its troops there would be tasked with “peace enforcement” as distinct from “peacekeeping”.

But there is one aspect — apart from the lessons of combat experience — in the discourse on the issue of sending troops that the military establishment finds particularly attractive. This is the perception that an involvement in Iraq will allow the military to interact with the US Central Command. India falls in the US Pacific Command’s area of responsibility while much of its strategic interest is in West Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan — which falls in the US Central Command’s area.

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