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There's an India that wants more!
October 20, 2003
India's penchant for missing the bus and dialling wrong numbers have by now reached legendary proportions. We spurned an invitation to join ASEAN in the early 1980s because the pinks in our foreign policy establishment deemed this would be tantamount to kow-towing to Yankee imperialism.
We welcomed the Soviet Union's ill-considered invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 because the very same progressives had informed us that only the Red Army can achieve liberation for oppressed souls.
So, when the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, we were left clutching at straws. So much so that there were whoops of delight in the Indian mission in Moscow when some desperate Communists attempted a pathetic coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991. India very narrowly averted the embarrassment of formally welcoming the Red putschists.
For at least four months, beginning with the visit of National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra to Washington last May, the George W Bush administration pleaded, cajoled and tempted India to assume peace-keeping responsibilities in Iraq.
When Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani visited the US in the summer, the entire who's who of Washington met him to press for the despatch of Indian forces. If India acceded to the request, Advani was told, Indo-US relations would move to a higher plane.
Subsequently, a Pentagon team arrived in Delhi to offer clarifications on the intended role of India in Iraq. Our officials listened attentively but their queries suggested a negative bent of mind.
This is precisely what happened with the Iraq project. Our political class fell back on the puerile parliamentary resolution that more or less endorses the reinstallation of Saddam Hussein to claim its hands were tied. To this was added the lack of domestic consensus, a euphemism for suggesting that Messrs Mani Shankar Aiyar, Sitaram Yechuri and G M Banatwala exercise a veto in foreign policy.
Finally, the CCS said no on the ground that there was no UN sanction.
In September, electoral compulsions were added to the list of excuses. The Americans were very civil and said they understood.
Therefore, every bomb blast in Baghdad, every assassination of a Shia cleric and every conceited outpouring of French or German diplomatic angst, is cited as another reason why we were right to not assume a supporting role in Northern Iraq.
If that was indeed the case why didn't we tell Washington and London right at the outset that we don't have the stomach for wider responsibilities? Would it not have been more honest? Why did we give the impression that we had an open mind on the subject and that it all depended on the long-term quid pro quo?
This part of us still talks approvingly of UN mandates, as if our own experience of the international body has been something to write home about. This part of us is actually happy that Islamist guerrillas are making life hell for the US forces in Iraq, quite forgetting the horrifying implications of American failure in Iraq and, for that matter, Afghanistan.
It involves combining fights with obligations. The Iraqi Governing Council is more willing to accept Indian peace-keeping forces than it is willing to stomach the presence of Turkish troops. We frittered away that goodwill.