India reviving its leagacy in Iraq

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ejazr, Jun 25, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    www.outlookindia.com | Sailing Up The Tigris

    When Suresh Reddy, an Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1991 batch, flew out of New Delhi as India’s ambassador to Iraq a fortnight ago, he was symbolically burying dark memories from nearly seven years ago. In 2004, an Iraqi dissident group had abducted three Indian truck drivers (along with three Kenyans and an Egyptian) and threatened to kill them unless their company paid ransom. For 44 long days, an Indian team led by Talmiz Ahmad, currently ambassador to Saudi Arabia, engaged in protracted negotiations with the abductors, even as Indians watched every turn and twist in the tense kidnapping drama unfold on their TV. The drivers were ultimately released, but with insurgency at its height and the security situation precarious, New Delhi also decided to pull out its then ambassador B.B. Tyagi from Baghdad a few months later.

    Reddy’s arrival in Baghdad marks the end of a seven-year hiatus in which India had downgraded its presence in Iraq, appointing just a charges d’affaires for holding operations. During this period, Iraq went through momentous changes—authoritarian rule was ended, two parliamentary elections were held, and the legacy of Saddam Hussein given a quiet burial. Buried with the Saddam legacy, however, is also the story of India’s eminence in Iraq, which will now be Reddy’s task to exhume and bring to life.

    Not surprisingly, Reddy’s departure to Baghdad has rekindled memories among Indian officials of the years during which Saddam and his predecessors were at the helm. In 1981, for instance, when India was facing an oil crisis, then prime minister Indira Gandhi dispatched Pranab Mukherjee to seek assistance from Iraq, which was then India’s largest oil supplier. Recalls an Indian diplomat, “It took less than five minutes to sort out the issue. Saddam instructed a close aide to ensure additional supply of oil was made to India at the earliest.”

    Yet, the meeting between Pranab and Saddam continued for another 45 minutes, says the diplomat. The reason: Saddam wanted to know how “sister Indira” was coping with the death of her son Sanjay. The Iraqi president read out a verse from the Holy Quran pertaining to death, marked it, and asked Pranab to deliver it to “sister Indira” as an expression of his sympathy. This warm relationship between India and Iraq survived Indira’s death. A diplomat recalls the glow on Saddam’s face as foreign minister I.K. Gujral controversially hugged him in Baghdad, where he had gone to secure the evacuations of Indians prior to the First Gulf War. A member of the Indian delegation even called Saddam a “Jat”, applauding him for his fight against injustice, even though the show of warmth displeased the United States.

    Indian diplomats narrate such stories to underscore the “formidable” and “enduring” relations India and Indians had with Iraq and its people till the 1980s. The touchstone of the Indo-Iraqi relationship was their 1952 treaty of “Perpetual Peace and Friendship”, which saw Indian doctors, teachers, professionals, businessmen and senior bureaucrats help Baghdad in capacity building and infrastructure development. Till the late 1980s, senior members of the Indian armed forces—both from the army and the air force—trained their Iraqi counterparts. Some 100 Indian companies had contracts worth $1 billion in Iraq. Indian films were a rage, and the Indian mind widely admired. Such was the esteem Indians enjoyed that they only had to utter the word Al Hind, or ‘India’, to have security checks waived at police posts.

    India can’t hope to overnight become a magic word in today’s Iraq, which, though boasting a representative government, remains under US occupation. With violence on the wane, countries are rushing to open their embassies in the hopes of bagging lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq, estimated to be worth $150 billion. More than 50 countries—including China, Japan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Russia and Bangladesh—have already established their presence. Says former mea official Zikrur Rehman, who played a crucial role in the release of the kidnapped drivers in 2004, “It will not be easy for the new ambassador in Iraq to recreate the magic and revive the pride of place India once enjoyed in the country.”

    What might be to India’s advantage is its soft power. Even now a large number of Iraqi students come to study in India. There’s an Iraqi school in New Delhi, in fact down the street where the Outlook office is located. India remains the favoured place for medical treatment—as many as 28,000 Iraqis came for this purpose last year. And more than 50,000 Indians are said to be already working for different foreign companies in Iraq. In addition, India hasn’t alienated the Iraqis, turning down Washington’s request to send troops to Iraq and consistently opposing the imposition of sanctions against it. Says former ambassador to Iraq R. Dayakar, “India has an enduring relationship with Iraqis. There is no animosity against India and this is the right time to post an ambassador there.”

    The Indian establishment is visibly playing down the decision to send Reddy to Baghdad, perhaps in an attempt to scale down expectations. As a secretary-rank official in South Block told Outlook, “The ambassador’s role will be to look for opportunities and inform the government where India can play a substantive part in Iraq’s nation-building.”

    Perhaps this cautious approach is in consonance with the ground reality in Iraq. For instance, it’s hard to tell whether the nation—with its recent history of extreme violence and fractiousness— will plunge into bloody chaos should US President Barack Obama fulfil his promise of withdrawing his troops by 2011-end. The alternative, of the US retaining even a skeletal presence, is equally fraught—it would disappoint the moderates and encourage the extremists to target the “occupying force”. Also, no one quite knows the impact the Arab Spring could have on Iraq—in February Baghdad witnessed demonstrations demanding better governance. It only makes sense not to hype up the reopening of the Indian embassy.

    As Reddy busies himself meeting officials in the Iraqi foreign ministry, he can only hope that the sentiments underlying the 1952 Treaty has endured in a rapidly changing country.
     
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  3. Phenom

    Phenom Regular Member

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    We used to see a lot of articles like this about Afghanistan, but now India seems to have been left out because of Pakistani pressure.

    India could have had some influence in Iraq if it had sent troops to Iraq when the Americans were desperately pleading for it, but now its too late. Chinese are already buying oil fields in Iraq and they are also giving aid to them, its only a matter of time before they become highly influential in that region.

    If India really wanted to become influential in far off regions then it has to be willing to use hard power, just relying on so called soft power doesn't work.
     
  4. maomao

    maomao Veteran Hunter of Maleecha Senior Member

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    The so called "soft power" is a myth and a propaganda used by the GOI to cover its fallacies and ineptitude, when they lose out on opportunities while they pry on poor taxpayers money, they use this term to show how peaceful they are. We all know how this govt. curtails any dissent when it comes to its own poor countrymen, the examples are many and they are termed as "demcrazy taking its course" or democrazy at work; congress and its dirty department is too good at it .

    Afghanistan and Iraq are lost opportunities for India, as we have had politicians with myopia and shortsightedness dipped in corruption, and at the same time trying to impress the world with the whole notion of "soft power" and sham"Gandhian" philosophy which they themselves never follow when it comes to their own countrymen.

    If with GOI we would be any power in any region, we would be a tertiary power and not a primary or secondary player.....Gosh I am sure army of failed state pakistan would do better at increasing their sphere of influence than any numb-skulled sycophants and their coterie at the center!
     
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  5. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Actually sending troops to Iraq would have demolished whatever good will India had in Iraq. The whole credit should go to Vajpayee for standing up the ridiculous idea of India troops in Iraq under an invasion backed by the US for saying no. What would have been proper use of Hard power in Indian interests would be to block US invasion with the threat of support to the Saddam regime because it was in Indian interests that he stayed. You can talk about the HR issues or that he was a dictator but I'm looking at this from only realist perspectives around Indian interests. Of course, to be realistic we could not have done that, even Russia and China were opposed but could not militarily stop it.

    What the Iraqi invasion shows us is that even US interests can go against Indian interests at time. Saddam Hussein was to put it simply "our man". While he was in power, India had great influence in the region. Indian army and air force officers were stationed in Iraq to provide training and at their request. This basically comes at looking at the region in the cold war era perspective where Soviet ties with India and Iraq led to strong ties between them. Similarly, Iran, China, Pakistan, US had close and supportive ties as well throughout the 50s,60 and 70s.

    What the final goal should be of Indian military power is to act as a guarantor of peace in the Persian Gulf region. So for example, in 2002, India was militarily weak that it could not stop the US from invading Iraq and playing havoc with our interests. The future should be that the US can not interfere militarily in the region except or unless India has been consulted or given approval to it.

    This also comes down where India has been pushing to get a liaison military officer with CENTCOM - the US military command that looks after this region. Traditionally, the US has been trying to shunt India towards PACOM and East Asia but it will be a big folly if we don't look at and build strategic ties with West Asia region and let the US interfere willy nilly in the future.
     

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