Sending troops to Iraq is in India’s self-interest

It is clear that the United States armed forces are thinly stretched across the world, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. With North Korea up to new nuclear shenanigans the US will have its plates full in the near future. Presidential elections in 2004 will make additional deployment of US reservist and other troops politically unviable. Of course this leaves the United States to re-deploy its forces into “flavour of the month” hotspots. There is an election in Taiwan round the corner too, and one can expect the Pacific fleet and forces to be moved in the Pacific rim area.

In such a scenario India needs to pragmatically examine the strategic implications vis-a-vis its own national interests.It needs to ensure that not only is Pakistan under constant pressure to arrest the jihadi elements within its territory, but also is bracketed on the western frontier by US forces checking the advance of neo-Taliban into Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the co-opting of a multinational force in Afghanistan, it is only the US which can successfully coerce the Pakistani military establishment to check the resurgence of terrorism on the Pak-Afghan border. It is therefore critical that US forces remain engaged on the Pak-Afghan front in the War against Terror. This will also mean that Pakistan’s continued direct and covert support for jihadi elements will remain in focus in the West keeping the pressure on Musharraf regime. All this implies that Pakistan will not be able to go back to the pre-9/11 stand of providing ‘moral support’ to the jihad in Kashmir, as overwhelming public opinion and the perspective of the international community will not be sympathetic to this line of reasoning.

It is therefore in India’s interest that the US does not divert its forces (and its strategic attention) from Afghanistan. If India is able to drive a strategic quid pro quo with the Bush Administration under which India can send its troops on peacekeeping duties in Iraq, in return for more intense US involvement in Aghanistan then it would be a win-win-win for India. US pressure on Pakistan implies less risk for Indian troops already engaged in anti-terrorism missions in Kashmir. The US government and public opinion is sure to see India as a strategic ally. From a commercial perspective, Indian firms could win some reconstruction contracts in Iraq, especially if this is linked to troop commitment.

Another key strategic ramification is the impact it will have on Pakistan’s internal dynamic. It is sure to further squeeze Musharraf between US demands to contribute troops versus vicious domestic opposition especially from the religious parties. The events following 9/11 have begun to Pakistan to re-examine its ideological bearings. India’s long term hopes for a peaceful co-existence with Pakistan rest on the chance that Pakistan will discard its misguided ideology which is based on hate. Any move to bring about circumstances when this can happen soon is in India’s interest.

This is a strategic “inflection point” – an opportunity for India to seal a new partnership with like-minded states. The current stance of the Indian government is best defined as a reluctance to anger a future Iraqi regime at the price of alienating the sole present superpower. Pragmatism should rule.

[This post was ‘published’ on 16 Sep 2003, using Blogger]