The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Multiple messages in Atal US sting

New Delhi, Nov. 19: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sought to address domestic concerns over Iraq and express Delhi’s disappointment with the US attitude towards Pakistan, saying “no country should try to impose its will” on others.

Vajpayee sent the message from a venue celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, pointing out that Baghdad was among the countries the founder of Sikhism had visited.

The Prime Minister took a swipe at Washington’s perceived unilateral policy on Iraq by saying that all issues should be sorted out under the auspices of the UN. “We hope no more war takes place in Iraq. All issues should be sorted out through discussions under the auspices of the UN,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister added that India was not supportive of the US move to bring about a regime change in Iraq. “People of every nation have a right to rule themselves and choose their own leader. No country should try to impose its will on any other country.”

Much of what the Prime Minister said reflects the stated Indian policy on Iraq. But the timing of the comments assumes significance.

Iraqi information minister Saeed al Safah is scheduled to arrive here on Thursday to garner support from India on the war of nerves with the US. Washington is keeping its finger on the trigger, reserving its right to attack, if UN arms inspectors, now in Baghdad, are blocked from making an independent assessment whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

Vajpayee’s comments also come close on the heels of a proposal by the Iraqi ambassador in Delhi that India should send observers to monitor the work of the UN arms inspectors. The proposal had embarrassed the Indian foreign policy establishment, which is not keen to be too closely linked with what the West considers as a “rogue” regime.

Domestic political compulsions, too, could have played a role in Vajpayee’s choice of words. Parliament is in session and the Prime Minister could have aimed the comments at the Opposition to blunt expected criticism that the government is going soft on the US.

India will not like to go out of its way to rally behind Saddam Hussein, but it will not give up an opportunity to showcase its independent stand.

The statement is also an indication of the government’s growing disappointment with the US. Delhi feels that the Bush administration has failed to exert adequate pressure on Pakistan to prevent cross-border terrorism and dismantle the terror apparatus it uses at regular intervals against India.

Despite repeated assurances, Washington so far has not pulled up the Pervez Musharraf regime for not living up to its commitment.

On the contrary, realisation is gradually dawning upon the Indian government that Pakistan is now the US’ best bet in the global war against terrorism and al Qaida.

The fact that Washington makes the distinction between al Qaida terrorists and the extremists active in Jammu and Kashmir has also not gone down well with India.

But Vajpayee made it clear that India was not supportive of Iraq’s clandestine programme to build weapons of mass destruction. “If Iraq has such weapons which endangers humanity, it should give it up on its own,” he said. “If terrorism of any form, any colour or any hue, wants to impose itself on anyone else, it will not be allowed to succeed.”

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