Saturday, July 10, 2004

Bring in Iran to stabilise Iraq And India should play a role in bringing about US-Iran rapprochement

Bring in Iran to stabilise Iraq: "Bring in Iran to stabilise Iraq


And India should play a role in bringing about US-Iran rapprochement

K. SUBRAHMANYAM

Posted online: , Saturday , July 10, 2004 at 0000 hours IST

The United States has transferred sovereignty to Iraq and the government of Iraq’s prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is expected to request help by way of armed forces from various countries, including India.

Meanwhile terroristic attacks in Iraq are increasing. Of particular concern are the attacks on the oil pipelines which are intended to slow down the recovery of Iraq and to keep international oil prices above $40 a barrel. In turn, such high prices may slow down US economic recovery and the global economic recovery. The Afghan elections are to be postponed further in view of the sustained Taliban and Al-Qaida attacks within Afghanistan. There are expectations by the US department of homeland security that there is likely to be a major terroristic attack on the US and elsewhere before the US elections.

There can be no two views that the neo-conservatives of US have made a complete mess of the Iraqi operation through their arrogant unilateralist approach. There is a widespread view in Europe, Russia and in India, that the Americans should be allowed to stew in their own juice. The US should pay for their own arrogance and folly and, therefore, other nations should keep off from Iraq as most nations did in the case of Vietnam. Unfortunately, Iraq is not Vietnam. The latter did not have oil and development, they did not impact on the world economy and the global war on terrorism.

Sadly, Iraq’s neighbours — the Sunni Islamic countries — are not welcome to send troops into Iraq. Even if European countries are willing to send troops to Iraq, their individual capacities to contribute significant forces are very limited. That is one of the reasons why India has been repeatedly pressed to send troops to Iraq. India also holds the key for Bangladesh to follow suit. Pakistanis may not be acceptable, in view of the repeated sectarian Shia killings in that country.

The country that has crucial influence on stabilising the situation in Iraq is Shia Iran. Iran has a natural interest in Iraq stabilising as a majority Shia-ruled state. But Iran has very little interest in allowing Iraq to stabilise if the American neo-conservatives continue to label Iran as a member of the “evil axis” and drop hints that Iran is on their target list after Iraq is pacified. Therefore the key to stabilisation of Iraq is an understanding between US and Iran on the future of Iraq — and reining in Wahabism.

Such an agreement between US and Iran may appear to be beyond the realm of diplomatic feasibility for most people. Not so if one recalls the U-turn taken by US and China in 1971, and the secret deals US conducted with Iran in violation of its own laws during the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. Some of the present prominent neo-conservatives, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, had taken part in that affair. Though the Iranians were suspected to aid the Hezbollah in Lebanon who were holding Americans as hostages and the US was tacitly supporting Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, the US had no compunctions about selling arms to Iran to get hostages released and to make a deal that part of arms sales proceeds should finance arms supplies to the Nicaraguan Contras.

Iran has gained a lot more international respectability in the last two decades. It has shown its interest in supporting Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s moderate stand. Therefore, there is scope for a major diplomatic role for India to play in bringing about US-Iranian rapprochement which will contribute to stabilisation of Iraq and for troops from India and Bangladesh to play a peace-keeping and peace enforcement role in Iraq.

The US accepted Pakistan as a frontline state in the war on terrorism against Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, although Washington was aware for years that Islamabad had extended various kinds of aid to the Taliban and Al-Qaida. US has always taken a pragmatic stand in such issues. The US is aware, thanks partly to the report of the senate committee headed by democratic presidential contender John Kerry in 1992, on the affairs of Pakistan’s Bank of Credit and Commerce International, that Pakistan had been indulging in nuclear proliferation vis-a-vis Iran as far back as 1987. The way in which Pakistan as a proliferator has been dealt with kid gloves by Washington must have its impact on Tehran.

Russia, Germany and France — besides India — have an interest in invoking Iranian interest in stabilising Iraq and the entire West Asia. The India of today is different from what it was in the era of bipolarity, when economically, politically, technologically, India was weaker. Now India aspires for a permanent seat in the Security Council and there is an expectation that India may be invited to join G-10, to be expanded from G-8. India, after becoming a nuclear and missile power, is no longer a deriver of security from the international system but a provider of international security. Therefore, the Indian approach to Iraq has to be proactive and not reactive.

The Indian approach has to be on the basis of what is good for our national interest and not on ideology. People tend to forget that as far back as December 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru — speaking in the Constituent Assembly — said, “We are not going to join a war if we can help it and we are going to join the side which is to our interest when the time comes to make the choice.”

Iraq is not likely to go away nor can we afford to ignore it because the US blundered into it unilaterally. It needs to be kept in constant review and we have to use our best diplomatic skills to move towards stabilisation of the entire region. The Americans, too, need to be kept engaged. We cannot afford to ignore the sole superpower especially when it commits blunders in our neighbourhood."

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