M. L. Sondhi and Arthur Waldron

The Pioneer, Tuesday April 15, 2003

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

Many were the prophecies of doom when British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush sent military forces into what looked like a dangerous war, with Turkey having unhelpfully closed the crucial northern front.  Leaders and the elite in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, the Chinese rulers and plenty of Americans also 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 the Euphrates is both a cradle of civilisation and the strategic core of the West Asia.  Demilitarised, free, with parliament, television, radio, free press and so forth, it will now dramatically alter the whole balance of power in the Gulf, tied to India by the millennia of trade, and by urgent security issues today.  Iraq’s emergence in this way can only weaken the remaining dictatorships which, it is hoped, may opt for the liberalisation that their people will begin to demand.  The yeast is working, the region is changing, and it is crucial that India no longer stands aloof.

India’s own tradition of freedom demands this, so do its interests.  Behind the military power of many West Asian dictatorships, not to mention the nearby states like Pakistan and Myanmar, lies India’s primary competitor today, economically, militarily and for global influence; China.

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

But how far, one may ask, can a relationship develop between a democratic United States and a China which remains, far more than is recognised, 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.  It poured money into Milosevic’s Serbia.  It continues to arm states like North Korea and Pakistan, while extending its 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 encircling it militarily while outrunning it economically and diplomatically.

India is already moving to master the seas that are the key both to its security and the growing trade-based economy and prosperity.  Reports from Washington indicate that the US now recognises its 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 East Europe such as Poland, and 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 kind 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 Mr. 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 its way.  Its success in broadening democracy without vast wealth or ethnic homogeneity, building institutions in which India’s many peoples work together, and now, its increasing success in unleashing its economy for the good of its people – these will be far more relevant to Iraq and other such countries as they move forward, then 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 its energy and resources behind both its deepest values and its most pressing interests.

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