Washington, July 3: In the effort to reach a decision on sending troops to Iraq, South Block appears to have taken matters into its own hands.
Unable to obtain all the clarifications New Delhi has been seeking from Washington, South Block has just completed one round of assessment of its own within Iraq on the prospect of Indian armed presence in the occupied country.
Winding up his five-day visit to Washington, foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal revealed at a briefing for Indian correspondents here that R.M. Abhyankar, secretary in the ministry of external affairs, met Iraqi leaders and obtained a first-hand impression of the situation which would face any Indian forces that may be deployed in Iraq.
Sibal said the US has a “difficult situation in hand” and that it is not easy for Washington to give all the clarifications sought by India because it has “no road map”, and it is faced with a “fast-moving situation”.
He said there is no deadline for any decision by New Delhi on sending troops.
It is understood that Abhyankar did a marathon road trip of 3,500 km within Iraq over four days ending last weekend, during which he met representative Iraqis of different affiliations.
In northern Iraq, where Indian troops are likely to be deployed, he met Jalal Talebani and Masoud Barzani, the two main Kurdish leaders. Barzani heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party while Talebani is leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Between the two men, they control much of Iraq’s northern areas. Abhyankar has known the two for over a decade when he was India’s ambassador in Turkey and prior to that in Syria.
On his way back to India from Iraq, Abhyankar met Adnan Pachachi, former Iraqi foreign minister, in Abu Dhabi, where he is now based.
Pachachi, 80, a prominent Sunni who is both secular and liberal, is fast emerging as a possible Hamid Karzai-type leader for any caretaker regime in Iraq that appears necessary in order to have international involvement in the stabilisation of the US-occupied country.
The Americans are veering round to the view that he is the best bet for a unified, self-governed Iraq.
Abhyankar’s visit will also lead to India adopting a maternity and paediatric hospital in Najaf.
India will send doctors, nurses, medicines and equipment for the hospital as part of New Delhi’s efforts to build bridges with Iraqis of all religious and ethnic persuasion.
Abhyankar’s trip to Iraq is an indication that India will be guided by its own judgement.
As part of the exercise to assess the situation, India’s ambassador in Baghdad, B.B. Tyagi, has held talks with Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator in Iraq, and other American officials there.
Sibal said the primary consideration in arriving at a decision would be India’s long-term interest in Iraq and its concerns in the Gulf. He pointed out that 70 per cent of India’s oil comes from the region, India has several million citizens in the Gulf and cultural and religious ties. The region is also a source of big remittances from Indian expatriates. He pointed out that a key question is whether India should play its role in a region that is set to see big changes.
Sibal said there is absolutely no pressure from Washington to send troops.
The US, he said, understands that India is a democracy and that there must be a political consensus on a decision such as sending troops abroad.
He said if there was UN cover for Iraq’s stabilisation, there would have been “no hesitation at all” on the part of India to any request for troops.