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Kashmir card against US request

New Delhi, Sept. 11: India is making an acceptance of Washington’s request for troops to Iraq conditional to US support on Kashmir.

India cannot afford to send troops to Iraq because the army is deeply committed in Kashmir, official sources said here today.

Delhi has also rejected a suggestion from the US to spare troops for Liberia.

“Against the backdrop of Kashmir, we cannot send troops to pacify Iraq. It is not only a question of UN mandate. There are attacks (in Kashmir) almost every day,” the sources said.

The US assistant secretary of state, Christina Rocca, is currently in Delhi, meeting functionaries in pursuance of Washington’s request.

A spiralling of violence in Kashmir over the past month has contributed to the shift in the Indian stand elucidated in a decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in July. The CCS had said it was not possible to send troops in the absence of an “explicit UN mandate”.

The change in the Indian stand comes even as the US is circulating a draft resolution in the UN Security Council envisaging a larger role in Iraq for the world body.

After authorising secretary of state Colin Powell to move a new resolution in the Security Council, proposing a multinational UN force under US command, President George W. Bush spoke to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Diplomatic circles speculated that a renewed request for troops might have been made during the conversation.

“Our relations with the US have not been hampered in any way despite having said no (to troops for Iraq) so far,” the sources said.

“We cannot afford to send the troops, given the situation in the north-western sector.”

This posture is markedly different from either a principled stand against sending troops in aid of the Anglo-American invasion or one that requires a UN appeal.

It leaves Delhi with the option to say ‘no’ again even if there is a categorical appeal from the UN for a multinational reinforcement of the occupying powers.

By May, following the US request, the Indian army had projected scenarios involving a possible deployment of a fully reinforced division of 17,000 troops or a brigade-plus deployment of 5,000 troops.

India’s reluctance to immediately accede to Washington’s request for troops is also a comment on the level of militarisation in Kashmir. Three corps headquarters (14, 15 and 16) are based in the state. The Valley-based 15 corps and the Jammu-headquartered 16 corps have dual responsibilities of manning the Line of Control and counter-insurgency. A conservative estimate of the size of a corps is 50,000 troops.

Exact figures on the numbers of Indian troops in Kashmir are not officially available and, when quoted, are invariably disputed.

The main reason, India says, for the insurgency is Pakistan’s backing and, unless Washington bears down on Islamabad to de-link Pakistani support to the militants, the army cannot have troops to commit for international missions such as the one in Iraq.

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