27 June 2003

Dying for Dubya: The Illogic of Indian Troops in Iraq

The Times of India, June 27, 2003

Dying for Dubya: The Illogic of Indian Troops in Iraq
By Siddharth Varadarajan

I wonder if L K Advani and others in the Vajpayee government who are so anxious to send soldiers to Iraq have ever heard of Lance Naik Anthony, III F.13, of the Bullock Corps? Or perhaps of Barkat Ali the Sapper, N Swamy the Bullock Driver, or Kannikar, Birsa, Copalan and Bhima B of the Indian Labour Corps?

I encountered their unremembered names at the Basra War Cemetery during a visit in 1998, on fading, chipped tombstones and the dusty, yellowing pages of Part XIII of The Basra War Memorial, Iraq, published by the Imperial War Graves Commission, 1931, and lovingly protected in a large sack by the cemetery’s caretaker. They, along with thousands of Indian soldiers, perished on the battlefields of Iraq during and after World War I, fighting a war of conquest and pacification against a fraternal people for the greater profit and glory of the British Empire.

Since their names were not individually recorded, separate plaques at the cemetery for the mostly anonymous ‘Mohammedan’, Hindu and Sikh soldiers announce that the brave Indians had “sacrificed their lives in the Great War for their King and their Country”. Underfed and poorly equipped, the Indian troops had been little more than cannon fodder for the British. The king they died for was George V, and one wonders what kind of epitaph will be penned for the Indian soldiers who will lay down their lives helping the US occupiers in Iraq if Mr Advani has his way. ‘For the brave Indians who sacrificed their lives for King George Bush II and his viceroy, L Paul Bremmer III’?

The call for troops from India is an act of desperation by the Bush administration which is hoping others will dig it out of a hole that is deepening by the day. With the body bag count slowly mounting, the US wants to cut its 150,000 soldier-strong presence to about 30,000, replacing the conquering heroes with dupes from around the world whose leaders aspire to nothing more noble than a chance to wait on the high table.

UN Security Council resolution 1483 lifted sanctions on Iraq, recognised the reality of the US occupation and -- regrettably -- allowed the invaders to decide how Iraqi oil revenues would be spent. However, the UN did not mandate a peace-keeping force of any sort, let alone the peace-making forces of the kind it deployed in Somalia (Unosom II) or the former Yugoslavia. It merely welcomes the “willingness of member-states to contribute to stability and security in Iraq by contributing personnel, equipment and other resources under the Authority” (emphasis added), i.e. the occupying powers.

So far, the debate in India has revolved around the question of whether it is acceptable for Indian soldiers to take orders from US commanders. Indian troops have functioned before under the command of foreign generals, but always within the context of a formally mandated UN force. In Somalia, so long as the US led its own peace-keeping force (Unitaf) -- which quickly degenerated into a deadly manhunt for Gen Aidid, endangering Somali civilians and peacekeepers alike -- India refrained from joining.

As in Somalia, this is the key reason why it would be disastrous for Indian soldiers to work under US command in Iraq. The US aim is not to restore stability -- it has not even managed to restore electricity and water -- but to impose political arrangements aimed at protecting its own interests. If that means aggressively wading into civilian areas (as in Fallujah, Tikrit and elsewhere) and making mass arrests, or closing down a TV station (as in Mosul), it is the Indian soldiers and other peace-keepers who will have to deal with the fall-out. What makes the venture all the more foolhardy is the mounting US pressure on Iraq’s neighbour, Iran. Indian troops deployed in the ‘trouble-free’ southern and northern areas of Iraq could willy-nilly get drawn into US machinations aimed at weakening Iranian and Shi’ite influence.

In India today, those favouring the sending of troops naively assume that the US will assist us against Pakistan over Kashmir (although what happens once Islamabad sends troops to Iraq is anybody’s guess). There is also a myopic and defeatist opportunism: “Let’s face facts, the US rules the world, we better join it in the hope that we might be able to influence them”, a retired Indian general with experience in peace-keeping (and US perfidy therein) declared on TV recently. Well, if Britain, America’s closest ally, is not able to influence US policy on most issues -- especially on giving the UN the decisive role in Iraq -- fat chance of India doing so.

Above all, the Vajpayee government must respect the Parliament resolution condemning the aggression against Iraq and calling for the immediate withdrawal of US forces. That resolution recognised both the will of the Indian people and the fact that the violation of international law and the destabilising of Asia are not in India’s national interest. To send troops to enforce an occupation explicitly condemned by Parliament would make a mockery of our democracy.

Another fiction being peddled by Mr Advani is that “if the Iraqis favour it”, India would send its troops. The Iraqis today are under an illegal, colonial occupation, and it is Viceroy Bremmer who takes all decisions. The day the Iraqis wrest back control of their country would also be the day the US occupiers would have to leave. Any call for Indian troops by Iraqis before that time would not be worth a piastre.

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