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Atal loads troop terms

New York, Sept.21: India is to tell the US that it will require more than a token UN nod for New Delhi’s troops to be airlifted to Iraq.

After briefings for the Prime Minister’s delegation by India’s UN diplomats on the emerging scenario in the Security Council, opinion is crystallising in the government that New Delhi should get militarily involved in Iraq only if the proposed UN resolution brings about fundamental changes in the composition of the stabilisation force in that country.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee is of the view, as he prepares to meet President George W. Bush and address the UN General Assembly, that such fundamental changes have to create the appearance that any multinational military presence in Iraq is not an occupation force.

The US-British-Polish presence in Iraq, reinforced by a straggling assortment from countries which supported the war, is viewed by Iraqis and the rest of the world as an occupation force.

India will not agree to join this assortment merely because UN sanctifies it with any token resolution which does not change the appearance and composition of this force.

The Prime Minister is firmly convinced that India should not take part in the military operations in Iraq merely to rescue the Americans from the quagmire they have got themselves into.

Instead, the objective of any Indian military participation should be to rescue the Iraqi people from their present predicament.

Sources in the Indian delegation to the General Assembly said it was regrettable that all the talk about expanding the stabilisation force for Iraq was focused on America’s difficulties.

India’s view is that such expansion should, instead, be predicated on the interests of the people of Iraq. “Nobody is talking about the Iraqi people, but only about the situation the US finds itself in,” one of the sources said.

Indian officials here have exchanged views on the emerging scenario on Iraq within the Security Council with several countries, including council members, the coalition that runs Iraq and the Arab bloc in the UN.

While New Delhi’s position has crystallised after Vajpayee’s arrival here, it is unlikely, all the same, to make too much noise about it unlike in the old days when India was a beacon for similar causes with the non-aligned movement and other fora.

The Prime Minister has received advice from his diplomatic team that India’s conditions for expanding the stabilisation force are, in fact, being advanced in the Security Council by countries which opposed the war, most notably Germany.

That makes it unnecessary for India to campaign on this issue.

India, France and other countries also want to know precisely what Washington meant when it offered to set up a unified command in Iraq as part of the package to take the problem back to the door of the UN.

Some Security Council members are of the view that if the UN acquires any security role in Iraq, the US cannot report to the council periodically as it has offered to do.

It will be a UN entity which will have to do such reporting. That would mean a greater role in Iraq for the world body than what the US has so far been willing to concede.

Such role includes development and reconstruction work, which Anglo-American conglomerates have been keen to monopolise.

Talking points discussed within the Prime Minister’s delegation for his meeting with Bush have proposed that India should get a clear timetable for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and creation of institutions of state before New Delhi can take part in any stabilisation force for that country.

The meeting between Bush and Vajpayee will now take place on Wednesday, instead of Tuesday.

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