New York/New Delhi, June 16: The Americans have added a sweetener to the request for Indian troops.
The Bush administration has told Indian diplomats at the UN that any Indian personnel deployed in Iraq will be assigned to the Kurdish areas of the country.
The initiative came as talks on sending Indian troops to Iraq entered a crucial stage with US assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs Peter Rodman reaching New Delhi on a flying visit.
In offering the Kurdish areas to India, the Americans are banking on the excellent relations which New Delhi has developed in recent years with Turkey.
Turkey’s support would be crucial for any peace-making to succeed in northern Iraq. The US tried and failed to win Ankara’s support for the war against Saddam Hussein, although Turkey is one of America’s staunchest allies in the region.
Besides, northern Iraq is the least troublesome part of the country and troops are less likely to get enmeshed in a situation of having to use force.
The US has also suggested that Delhi take charge of the entire zone dominated by the Kurds to maintain independence of Indian troops and to ensure that they work under their own flag.
That US and Indian diplomats at the UN have discussed the Iraq deployment in considerable detail is a reflection of the Bush administration’s belief that the BJP-led government will eventually accede to Washington’s request.
But it also believes that one of the sticking points before the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) will be the UN’s role in peace-making and peacekeeping in Iraq.
Indian diplomats at the UN are, therefore, being actively engaged by the Americans so that they are in a position to sort out any loose ends involving the world body as and when the CCS and the Union Cabinet nears a decision on the issue.
The Pentagon team that arrived in Delhi today sought India’s support and tried to clarify a string of queries about the US proposal. The US assurances helped clear some of India’s misgivings but they have not yielded a categoric commitment on sending the troops.
Indications suggest that a decision would be kept pending until Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee returns from his visit to China later this month. His discussions in China are unlikely to have much of an impact on India’s decision, but the visit does provide Delhi a few more weeks of breathing time.
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who concluded his eight-day stay in the US, is understood to be taking back to the CCS his assessment that India must sort out three crucial points on Iraq before arriving at any decision.
First, a way must be found around the stigma on any nation-building force deployed in Iraq that it is an extension of the US army and administration there — legally and morally an occupying force.
Second, the UN’s role in India’s involvement must be clearly defined.
Third, perhaps most important, the Cabinet must ask itself what is there for India in the deployment and make sure that the Bush administration is able to deliver on any assurance on the quid pro quo.