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Velvet gloves off, US plays Pak card on Iraq-wary Delhi
- Washington sends a signal by trying to derail Salman Haidar’s appointment as UN representative in Baghdad

New York, July 11: Ahead of deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage’s visit to New Delhi on Tuesday, the Americans are sending strong signals to the new Indian government that it should stop pussy-footing about Indo-US relations and lay its cards on the table.

In a message pregnant with implications for the United Progressive Alliance government’s Iraq policy, the Bush administration has virtually scuttled at the eleventh hour the appointment of former foreign secretary Salman Haidar to the high-profile job of UN representative in Iraq.

Washington is pressing UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to choose Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, instead of Haidar for the sensitive assignment of leading the world body back into Baghdad.

According to diplomats at the UN, the Bush administration is trying to work out a “package deal” with Qazi. The Americans are suggesting to their allies and UN Security Council members that if Qazi is chosen for the job, General Pervez Musharraf will also agree to send Pakistani troops to Iraq.

Pakistani troops will not join the Americans or the US-controlled Iraqi government in peacekeeping or peacemaking in Iraq, but will only protect Qazi and the UN staff and their properties.

Such a role had been repeatedly proposed for India by the Pentagon and the state department earlier this year in talks with Delhi, but the BJP-led government used the excuse of elections to delay any definite answer to Washington.

The shifting positions of the new Congress-led government on Iraq since assuming power have, however, exasperated Washington, where officials make no secret of their displeasure over external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh’s firm refusal to endorse the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s position that India and the US are “natural allies”.

Singh said in Washington last month that “I don’t think one should go as far as that” and warned against becoming “prisoners of clichés”.

The US is expected to use both carrots and sticks in its effort to establish a working relationship with the UPA government. The attempt to promote Qazi’s candidature over that of India’s former foreign secretary and get Pakistani troops into Iraq for precisely the role that was once proposed for Delhi is a powerful stick in that effort.

Another stick in the American reservoir may be used against India any day and may come in the form of crippling anti-dumping duties on shrimp exported to the US.

India supplies 12 per cent of shrimp imported into the US. India exported shrimp worth $400 million to the US in 2003.

An equally powerful stick that the US may wield is to go slow on high-technology trade with India, including the sale of dual civilian-military technology and goods, painstakingly worked out with the Vajpayee government. If India accommodates the US, this stick may turn into a carrot and such sales may be speeded up.

America’s point man on the subject, under-secretary for commerce Kenneth Juster, has already been to Delhi and talked to the new government. Much will depend on his feedback to the Bush administration, but significantly, David Mulford, the US ambassador to India, last week expressed concerns about such technology imported by India from third countries.

At the same time, Douglas Feith, the under-secretary for defence, on Friday offered the carrot of Indian participation in a Group of Eight (G-8) initiative to expand its joint global peacekeeping potential. The initiative was launched at the G-8 summit in the US last month and envisages the training of 75,000 peacekeeping troops by 2010. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi proposed at the summit that India should be invited to join the G-8.

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