India’s decision not to send troops to Iraq proves that while our foreign policy may not have yet come of age, our democracy sure has. The greatest factor to influence the decision of the cabinet committee on security was the pressure of public opinion, overwhelmingly against sending troops. This should be a consolation to those who fear that we have lost out on an opportunity to forge closer ties with the United States of America. Wasn’t the Iraq war fought to install a democratic society there' The US should then laud India for this exercise in democracy.
But the moral debate and questions of payment apart, sending troops to Iraq would also have meant India’s alienation from the rest of the world, with no real guarantee of US support on Kashmir. On the other hand, in spite of lending support to the US after 9/11 in Afghanistan, India’s relations with the Muslim world have remained largely untouched. None of the Organization of Islamic Conference countries has officially taken any anti-Indian position vis-à-vis Kashmir.
Indian troops in Iraq would have lent a degree of legitimacy to the coalition occupation, something the US badly needs, and which countries like Iran and Syria want to avoid. By placing troops in Iraq, India risked the danger of upsetting its carefully nurtured and strategic ties with Iran, a regional power. Kuwait, and probably other Gulf states like Bahrain and Qatar, would have liked Indian troops in Iraq. But, Saudi Arabia, the largest producer and reservoir of oil, had not welcomed the idea.
Of course, the move would certainly have antagonized the Iraqis themselves. An “Iraqi” governing council has hurriedly been formed, but it is neither elected nor representative, merely an extension of the US government. “Peace keeping” would actually have meant protecting coalition forces from hostile fire. Indian troops in Iraq would have meant a reduction of US troops there, that is, less body bags to America and more domestic support for the occupation, not to mention the millions of dollars the US would have saved by reducing its troops.
Sending troops to Iraq would also have undermined the UN process — something India cannot afford to do. The permanent members of the security council, Russia and France, had also voiced their opposition to Indian peace-keepers in Iraq. While these countries may have come around to accept the new realities, all want to avoid legitimizing this war and the occupation to prevent it from becoming a precedent.
Why does the world’s only superpower need “peace keeping” forces from other countries, after proving to the world its ability to “shock and awe”' And why did it so want Indian troops' Where are all those countries which formed the “coalition of the willing”' Why doesn’t the US invite its allies from the Arab world — countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia — to send in troops'
Stick to your guns
India does not need to appease the Muslim world, but neither does it need to antagonize it. We have more than one million Indians working in the Gulf countries who remit about six billion dollars home annually. The Iraq war has confirmed all the fears about US double standards, increased suspicions about its motives and seriously eroded US credibility worldwide. By hitching on to the US bandwagon in Iraq, India risks falling in the same bracket.
The oil contracts we may have been rewarded with would not have been worth the blood of our troops. No matter how much the US brands Iraq as part of an axis, it still cannot make Iraq look like a World War II axis member. It will take generations of Iraqis to forgive the Americans for the misery and chaos they have heaped on them. And what would happen to those oil contracts that Indian companies might have won, when a truly “Iraqi” government is formed, as it surely will'
The CCS has taken the correct decision, truly in keeping with our longer-term national interests. It is always more desirable to be respected for one’s dignity and independence than for one’s military prowess.