New York, May 31: The Bush administration plans to draw India into discussions on getting involved in Iraq as soon as the new government in New Delhi settles down in office, according to American sources at the UN.
Contrary to the popular perception in New Delhi that the Congress-led, Left-backed government of Manmohan Singh has come to office with a hands-off policy on Iraq, hopes are high here at the UN that India will not stay out of Iraq in the post-June 30 phase when Washington is promising to hand back sovereignty to Iraqis.
Both UN secretary general Kofi Annan and his special envoy on Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, are keen beyond anything they have said in public that India should become involved in Iraq after June 30, when a government picked by Brahimi will take over the powers of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, sources at the UN told The Telegraph.
They are confident that in the coming months, external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh and national security adviser J.. Dixit, faced with the realities of diplomatic realpolitik, will find themselves trying to convince the Left parties in favour of Indian involvement in Iraq instead of following their pre-election script of being hands off on that country.
The Indian permanent representative to the UN, Vijay Nambiar, whose exhaustive briefing here in September on the pros and cons of an Indian army role in Iraq was decisive in persuading former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to say “No” to President George W. Bush, has been engaged by Annan and Brahimi in recent weeks on an Indian role in Iraq.
To the envy of other ambassadors to the UN, Brahimi’s talks with Nambiar have been brutally frank and spectacularly free on the future of Iraq because the two men share a personal friendship, which spans two decades.
When Nambiar was India’s ambassador in Algiers in the 1980s, Brahimi was diplomatic adviser to the Algerian President. Later when Nambiar was Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, Brahimi was appointed head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
Brahimi usually travelled through Islamabad to Kabul and met Nambiar, a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, to compare notes every time he went to Kabul.
Unfortunately, Nambiar retired today. With the new dispensation in South Block unable to decide on suggestions that he should get an eleventh-hour extension, New Delhi has lost a valuable link with key decision-makers at the UN on Iraq at a crucial time in that country’s transition.
According to sources privy to the Brahimi’s views, the change in government has placed India in a much better position to play a role in Iraq.
Arab diplomats at the UN are understood to have told the special envoy that many governments in West Asia have a history of proximity to the Congress and the Left.
They would welcome any Indian participation in Iraq’s road back to normality.
The last US request for Indian troops for Iraq was made on April 7, by General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who went to the residence of the then Indian ambassador in Washington, Lalit Mansingh, on a particularly bad day for US forces battling insurgents all across central Iraq.
Mansingh got out of the quagmire of US pressure by pointing out to the General that India was in the middle of an election campaign.
Since then, the Bush administration has been humbled by the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. Robert Blackwill, former ambassador to India and the national security council official dealing with Iraq, acknowledged to a delegation from India a few weeks ago that New Delhi’s decision not to send troops to Iraq had proved to be wise.
Therefore, while the Bush administration may well coordinate the details of an Indian role in Iraq in future, the formal request and subsequent pressure on the new government on this issue may well come from the UN or the so-called sovereign government in Iraq and not directly from Washington.