The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi on war middle path

New Delhi, Feb. 27: India might not approve of the American policy on Iraq, but is careful not to take a stand that could marginalise it in post-Saddam Hussein Baghdad.

At the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had expressed displeasure over the US role in Iraq. Referring to reports on North Korea’s nuclear programme, Vajpayee made it clear that there should be no “double-standards” while dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

Indications are that the Indian foreign policy establishment is still trying to formulate its policy on the fast-paced developments in Iraq. Much of what Vajpayee said in Malaysia, therefore, should be seen in the domestic context.

In the backdrop of the Assembly elections in some states, the BJP does not want to be seen as toeing the US line too closely. Moreover, with the budget session of Parliament on, it does not want to provide detractors, within and outside the ruling coalition, a handle to embarrass it.

However, Indian officials and foreign policy experts stress that India’s stand on Iraq should be based on “pragmatism”. A senior official clarified that Delhi was no longer willing to carry “the baggage of the Cold War days”. The Indian stand should be based on what serves its national interests best, rather than on ideology of the past, he said.

The new thrust of India’s policy was also reflected in the recently concluded Nam summit.

As a result of the initiative taken by India and some other countries, the Nam resolution drives home the point that Saddam would have to “comply fully” with the Security Council resolution and satisfy the world that it does not possess any weapon of mass destruction.

India also deliberately urged developing nations to engage with the West even as Malaysian Prime Minister and Nam chairman Mahathir Mohammed decided to play to the gallery with his fiery anti-American speech and frequent barbs at Washington’s fight against global terrorism.

India emphasised that it supports a peaceful resolution of the crisis, was against unilateralism and would like the Security Council to take a final decision on Iraq.

The US could live with the Indian position. That the US has introduced a second resolution in the Security Council and has so far remained engaged with the UN could be argued in certain quarters as evidence that Washington was also against unilateral action.

Hectic attempts are now being made by the Americans to get support from nine nations, which is crucial for it to get its resolution passed in the 15-member Security Council.

Unless France, a permanent member of the Council, vetoes it, any military action against Baghdad could then be seen as one with the approval of the UN.

India, which has kept its options open, could then base its policy on Iraq on its national interests. Though it is highly unlikely that it would offer its bases or re-fuelling facilities to US fighter aircraft Delhi could find ways to support the US move once military action against Baghdad starts.

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