Let?s get practical now
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Let?s get practical now

It is the post-war situation in Iraq and West Asia ? stretching from Israel, Turkey and Egypt in the north to countries of the Gulf, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the south ? that should now concern India and the rest of the world.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2003 16:08 IST

The military operation led by the US coalition in Iraq is coming to an end. The last urban bastion, Saddam Hussein’s home province of Tikrit, has now fallen to US forces, nearly a month after the military move commenced. Despite initial miscalculations, American plans seem to have been implemented more or less according to schedule.

Regardless of Saddam Hussein’s fate, his regime has come to an end. It is the post-war situation in Iraq and West Asia — stretching from Israel, Turkey and Egypt in the north to countries of the Gulf, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the south — that should now concern India and the rest of the world. Three dimensions of the situation need assessment: the structuring of a political and administrative dispensation in Iraq, the reaction in Islamic countries and, thirdly, the manner in which India is responding to the evolving situation.

The week after US forces captured major urban centres has been characterised by general anarchy, with some pockets of Iraqi resistance still operating. American authorities are seeking to bring the situation under control, with help from some sections of the Iraqi population. A team of US officials, led by Lt. General Jay Garner and 23 senior officers, will undertake the interim process of stabilisation of Iraq. In the meantime, there is considerable uncertainty about which group of Iraqi opposition will be entrusted with the responsibility of establishing the new Iraqi government. Names of senior Iraqi political figures in exile, Ahmad Chalabi and Adnan Pachachi, are making the rounds, but the US is not sure which of the two should be put in charge.

Basically, neither of the three — Garner, Chalabi and Pachachi — is likely to get the support of the Iraqis. Garner, with his Israeli military connections during Gulf War I, is being looked at sceptically by the Iraqis. His nomination as the head of the interim authority affects the credibility of the US claim that its military operation was to liberate Iraq and hand over the government to genuine Iraqi leaders. The two Iraqi figures mentioned have dubious political pasts with the added disadvantage of having lived abroad for a long period, without any involvement with the people of Iraq. Also, there seem to be differences between Britain and the US, with the former keen that the interim administration should be seen as being run by Iraqis rather than the US. However, Britain’s view is not likely to prevail.

Given the lack of an immediate credible alternative to Saddam’s leadership, there is a likelihood that the interim authority will be run by the US, with Iraqis in subordinate positions. Notwithstanding the military success of the US-led coalition and the Iraqi people’s wish to be rid of Saddam, there is a sense of humiliation and resentment in the country over the US’s military operations and assertive politico-military postures. Their perception is of an arrogant West attempting to dominate Muslim countries through coercive force.

The war is over but conflict will continue in Iraq. Islamic governments and countries have resentfully accepted this war as inevitable. However, this public resentment will manifest itself in an incremental nexus between the people and Islamic militant groups. The world will have to cope with a new and expanded phase of international terrorism, which, beyond a point, cannot be controlled by purely coercive or military means.

The second critical challenge the world will face is political instability in a region that is of strategic importance. Though there is general consensus that Iraq’s reconstruction should be channelled through the UN, the US will ensure for itself a lion’s share of all foreign economic activity in Iraq, especially with American companies enjoying governmental connections. At best, the UN and the World Bank will play a secondary and supportive role.

The Indian government’s evolving response to these developments seems to be self-contradictory and uncertain. The parliamentary resolution on Iraq was reflective of public sentiment in India. But the NDA government’s act of moving a resolution was farcical and meaningless, coming as it did when the military campaign was approaching its end. The government, while criticising the US on an ascending scale, has parallely initiated a diplomatic and political interaction with the US and its allies in order to participate in Iraq’s reconstruction. The US is likely to harbour some doubt and resentment against India, for desiring the benefits of US military operations without supporting it. Minimal consistency is necessary in such matters. One hopes that FICCI’s delegations and the MEA’s crisis management group succeed in their initiatives in this matter.

There are motivations beyond those articulated by George W. Bush to justify the decision to go to war. These are inherent in the National Security Objectives Document issued by the White House in September 2002. It asserts that the world’s stability, respect for democracy and human rights and an equitable economic order is dependent on the US retaining the supreme position in the international community. The US reserves the right to take pre-emptive and interventionist political and military action against the phenomenon of possession of nuclear weapons, existence of terrorism, real or potential, disrespect for human rights and democracy, or the possibility of nuclear confrontation due to inter-State disputes. (This could be an argument for US intervention in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.)

The National Security documents issued by the US since 1992 have repeatedly emphasised that the US’s supreme international position depends on controlling the development and dissemination of technologies, unhindered access to the world’s natural resources, particularly energy resources, and in ensuring that no other country emerges as a competitor. This includes preventing the rise of any regional power that may potentially oppose US policies and interests.

More specific and unarticulated policy objectives are to have geo-political control of oil and natural gas resources, stretching practically from Kazakhstan to Saudi Arabia and secondly, to have an enhanced strategic presence in the Gulf and West Asia. By having influence in Afghanistan and Iran, general dominance of Central Asian countries and the Gulf will be ensured. Similarly, US influence in Iraq will enable Washington to act against Iran and, if needed, against Syria and terrorist groups operating in West Asia. Politico-strategic dimensions of West Asia are linked to the US plans and policies to stabilise West Asia and impose some kind of solution of the Palestinian issue while safeguarding Israel’s interests.

It is pertinent to note that the US mentions India as a possibly significant strategic ally for international security and stability. In this context, a practical approach for India would be not to oppose the US in its Iraq policies because it will unnecessarily generate misunderstandings, India-US relations being of importance to India at this stage. Equally important for India is to be in a position to have good working relations with the new political dispensation in Iraq. This is necessary for obvious political and economic reasons in terms of countering militancy and terrorism and having access to long-term energy supplies. This should, however, not make us ignore profoundly important precedents that will be established as a result of US actions.

The US, assuming the right to bring about regime changes, negates the right of people of different countries to decide on their own government. The US reserving the right to pre-emptive action against weapons and defence capacities of foreign governments negates the fundamental sovereign right of Nation-States to decide autonomously on their own defence and military capacities. The US institutionally negating UN role in this case relegates the UN to being just a debating society shorn of the responsibilities of ensuring collective international peace and conflict resolution. This is not just Pax Americana but the prospects are of a US Imperium — a prospect looked upon with concern by important countries like France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran.

The remedy does not lie in confronting the US but in establishing broad political and strategic understanding with these powers to temper a new hegemony in the making.

First Published: Apr 16, 2003 00:01 IST