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'By abstaining, India voted for India'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
March 07, 2022 08:06 IST
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'It did not vote against America, or for Russia.'
'If we had voted for the American motion, it would have spoilt our relationship with Russia without any change in Russia's behaviour.'

IMAGE: The United Nations Security Council assembles to vote for a rare emergency special session of the 193-member UN General Assembly on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, February 27, 2022. Photograph: David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters

Was India right to abstain from votes at the United Nations on the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

"What India showed was the correct attitude, pointing out a solution and keeping in mind India's interests. If we displease Russia, there will be some adverse implications," Ambassador K P Fabian, the distinguished diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service from 1964 to 2000, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier. Ambassador Fabian was the joint secretary (Gulf) at the ministry of extrenal affairs when India evacuated 170,000 Indians from Kuwait in 1990 months before Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq war.

The concluding segment of a two-part interview:

 

Do you see a parallel between the situation in Ukraine and what happened in Kuwait in 1990?

Except that when we did the evacuation, there was no war happening. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The Kuwait government ran away, and Iraq occupied Kuwait. The America led coalition started the war liberate Kuwait only in February 1991.

Yes, the number of people to evacuate was very large -- over 170,000 -- but there was no war.

The Iraqi security people checked all of us, but there was no shooting war.

But now in Ukraine, there is a shooting war, which is a very difficult situation.

As a matter of fact (during the Ukraine crisis), at the MEA, there is a 24/7 control room with 20 people at all times headed by a director. We did not have all this in 1990. Yes, we had a control room, but I did not have 4-5 directors in charge.

This government has sent four ministers to oversee the evacuation of students. Do you think it would help in any way?

I am not sure whether sending the ministers would help much. In principle, the ambassadors are competent. If he has to devote time to look after these VVIPs at a time like this, it will cut into the ambassador's time.

It is a good PR gesture within the Indian set-up, that's all.

It was reported that the Indian students were facing a lot of hostility even at the Polish border. Do you think it has something to do with India abstaining from voting against Russia at the UN?

I have seen such reports. It is possible that our voting at the United Nations might have had an impact.

But if you look at the larger picture, there are thousands of Ukrainians milling at the border check point, and many of them are old, some of them are women and some with babies.

Then, there are these foreign students who are young, between the age of 22 and 25 who can stand the cold weather!

Who will get preference when the system can process only X number of people in an hour?

That applies to getting on to a train or a bus too.

Even in the first flight we brought from Kuwait, we gave preference to old people and young mothers.

In fact, I was abused by three young men for not letting them into the first flight.

Is it common for political establishments to take mileage out of evacuations like these?

Back in 1990, we didn't give it any name like Operation Ganga, Vande Mataram, and all that.

We just did our job, that's all.

It is understandable that the government of the day tries to take mileage out of this.

Do you feel it was a diplomatic failure on India's part not to have taken a strong stand against the war started by Russia?

No. I maintain that by abstaining, India voted for India. It did not vote against America, or for Russia.

If we had voted for the American motion, it would have spoilt our relationship with Russia without any change in Russia's behaviour.

And diplomacy for India requires good relations with both Russia and the United States at the same time.

Diplomacy is being able to dance with more than one partner at a time.

Even when what one partner does is wrong?

That's why India said, restraint should be used, negotiation needed, military force cannot give us a solution, etc.

I think what India showed was the correct attitude, pointing out a solution and keeping in mind India's interests. If we displease Russia, there will be some adverse implications.

So, diplomatically it was a sound decision.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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