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M.L. Sondhi and Arthur Waldron

Active Indian support now for the democratization of Iraq will also lay to rest, for once and all, the suspicion that she is somehow “neutral” between freedom and dictatorship, while bringing her to where her interests also direct her: fully on board with the new coalition of free and democratic countries that is now taking shape.

Many were the prophecies of doom when Tony Blair and George Bush took the bold and dangerous step of sending military forces into what looked like a dangerous war, with Turkey having unhelpfully closed the crucial northern front.  Leaders and elite in Paris and Brussels and Berlin – and the Chinese rulers and plenty of Americans too – accused Washington of a mercenary oil-driven neo-imperialist policy.  They have all been shown wrong.

Instead, a new world is beginning to take shape.  Iraq – and its heart between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – is both a cradle of civilization and the strategic core of the Middle East.  Demilitarized, free, with parliament, television and radio, free press and so forth, she will now dramatically after the whole balance of power in the Gulf region, tied to India by millennia of trade, and by urgent security issues today.  Iraq’s emergence in this way can only weaken the remaining dictatorships which, we may hope, may opt for the liberalization that their people will begin to demand.  The yeast is working; the region is changing, and it is crucial that India no longer stand aloof.

India’s own tradition of freedom demands this, but so do her interests.  Behind the military power many of the Middle East dictatorships, not to mention states nearer by, such as Pakistan and Myanmar, lies India’s primary competitor today, economically, militarily, and for global influence: namely, China.

So far China has made all the running.  For decades Washington has bracketed Beijing with Moscow as one of her two most important foreign interlocutors.  New Delhi has, until recently, been nowhere.  American media earnestly solicit Chinese views about the world; fret when Beijing is unhappy, fill journals and airwaves about the crucial nature of Beijing.

But how far, one may ask, can a relationship develop between a democratic United States and a China which remains, far more than is recognized, both collectivist economically and politically at least aspirationally totalitarian.  This is a state which resembles India in its size, and in the sophistication and talents of its people.  But that is where the comparison ends, for politically the states could not be more different.

Furthermore, China has shown an uncanny ability to back losers internationally over the last two decades.  She poured money into Milosevic’s Serbia, she continues to cultivate and to arm such states as North Korea and Pakistan, while extending her military influence around all the waters, from the Straits of Malacca to the Gulf and the Red Sea, that also wash the coasts of India.  Clearly the intent is to pin India down by out flaking and encircling her militarily while outrunning her economically and diplomatically.

So joining the powerful new coalition emerging from the Iraq war is not simply a matter of ideals for India.  It is also a matter of national security interest.  Without some strong friendships across the seas to the east and west, India – already threatened from the north – will face a potentially dangerous strategic isolation.

India is already moving to master the seas that are the key both to her security and to her growing, trade-based, economy and prosperity.  Reports from Washington indicate that the United States now recognizes her unique advantages as a fellow free country and security partner.  India belongs in the new coalition now forming: unlike such failures as the League of Nations, this coalition is informal: Japan, Australia, the new states of Eastern Europe such as Poland, Britain and the US, and based not on grandiose treaties or new structures but simply on willingness to lend a hand.  Membership is open: it is a group of friends – the kinds of friends good in a tight spot – and equals.  It grows organically, by working together and, given the cultural differences among them, getting to know one another better.  It is, as George Bush has put it, a growing coalition “of the willing” – based not in  Geneva or Turtle Bay, but on the willingness to pitch in.

India should be willing.  The world is changing her way.  Her success in broadening democracy without vast wealth or ethnic homogeneity; building institutions in which India’s many peoples work together, and now, her increasing success in unleashing her economy for the good of her people – these will be far more relevant to Iraq and other such countries as they move forward than the more distant models of “Old Europe” or even the United States.  Internationally, India wasted decades after independence on a dead end policy of non-alignment.  Now is the time to put her energy and resources behind both her deepest values and her most pressing interests.

India cautiously sat out Operation Iraqi Freedom but now, amidst the stirring television images of the free people of Baghdad tearing down remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime, it is time for New Delhi to recognize that India’s ideals and interests lie with the free world – and to act

India, after all, is a far bigger and even more ethnically complex nation than is Iraq, but she is also what Iraq now should become – a democracy, and an enduring and successful one.  This makes New Delhi’s democracy, with its devolved powers and federal structure, in many ways a far more relevant model for the Iraqis – Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Turcomans, and may others – as they grope for a way forward than are the democracies that helped free them: Washington, London, Canberra (the partial exception is Warsaw, a newly-free country).

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