What is disconcerting is that the Indian government has begun echoing the Obama administration's rhetoric on Libya.
Even as India voted in New York for the tough United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya, closer home in Kabul, the Afghan government released the findings of an investigation that 65 civilians, including 40 children, were killed in the latest brutal assault by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces in the eastern Kunar province 10 days ago. The children, aged 13 and under, couldn't even comprehend the idea of death. It was a war crime. The report is a stark reminder that the “international community” masquerading as a champion of non-violence in Libya has blood on its hands as much as Colonel Muammar Qadhafi has. Lest we forget, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered since the U.S. invasion in 2003. And no one cared to refer the “case file” to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Yet, the ludicrous spin given in New Delhi is that India voted for the resolution on Libya since it was pointedly targeted against Mr. Qadhafi and his associates. Even as the resolution was adopted, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the proposition that Washington is “reaching out” to the Libyan opposition and is “ready and prepared to offer any type of assistance.” A full 72 hours before the Security Council actually passed the resolution, President Barack Obama had gone on record that he was considering the “full range of options” on Libya, which implied that he wouldn't rule out military action. The day after he spoke, on Tuesday, he already began consulting the U.S.'s western allies for coordinated action. The NATO's Defence Ministers accordingly held a meeting on the outskirts of Budapest on Thursday. Simultaneously, the European Commission began ascertaining from member-countries the military resources they could spare. Meanwhile, three German warships moved to the Libyan coast — although all German nationals were already evacuated from the country. According to Debka File, the news website linked to Israeli security agencies, U.S., British and French military advisers and intelligence officers landed in the eastern breakaway province of Cyrenaica in Libya on Thursday to prepare the logistics of a possible military operation. The New York Times reported on Monday that the U.S. had begun moving warships to Libya.
Republican Senator John McCain and Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman made a call on Friday from Tel Aviv for Washington to supply Libyan rebels with arms, among other steps, including establishing a “no-fly zone” over the country. Anne-Marie Slaughter, until last month the influential director of the State Department's Policy Planning office, cited the U.S.-NATO Kosovo campaign as a possible precedent. To be sure, a mountainload of such revealing details is available in the open media. Common sense suggests that Washington pushed the harshly worded Security Council resolution as a pre-requisite for a possible NATO intervention in the coming weeks. Coincidence or not, a fortnight ago, NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen visited Israel, where he suggested that the alliance could take over responsibility as a peacekeeper in Palestine.
Grand U.S. strategy
In short, there is a grand U.S. strategy toward Libya that needs to be clinically delinked from Mr. Qadhafi's horrific crimes. Aside from western companies' extensive interests, Libya happens to be a major supplier of oil to Europe, especially Italy, which is already facing economic difficulty. Any disruption in Libyan supplies can imperil Europe's economic recovery. Besides, NATO deployment reassures Israel, which increasingly faces regional isolation. Indeed, NATO has been raring to go to West Asia.
It stands to reason that our government has taken a deliberate, considered decision at the highest level to vote for the U.S.- sponsored Security Council resolution. A precedent of grave proportions for international security is taking shape, which is what the western move on Libya is all about, and New Delhi seems unwilling to explain its role in it. This opaqueness or dissimulation is shocking, to say the least. Why not openly and categorically affirm that having voted for the U.S.-led resolution, India doesn't intend to be associated in any way further with any “humanitarian intervention” or what not? It is a rather straightforward thing to say. If the western intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq holds any moral it is that these modern-day crusades in Muslim countries by western armies can only bring grief and lead to unspeakable tragedies. And India should stay worlds away from these blood-soaked enterprises. On Mr. Qadhafi's crackdown, India has not minced words and, in fact, has used harsh language, which is the right thing to do.
The well-known Russian academician and former Prime Minister Evgeniy Primakov has warned that foreign military intervention in Libya will be counter-productive. “Nobody should be getting involved in these events. It is important to understand the mentality of the Arab people and the history of the Arab countries … foreign military intervention [in the region] is often counter-productive.” The great Arabist added the sanctions imposed on Libya by the Security Council would constitute a “sufficient” response to the crisis. In effect, the Qadhafi regime has been “de-legitimised” and it will be increasingly difficult for the dictator to hold on to power with a fast-dwindling popular base.
On the other hand, there are inherent dangers if the western countries intervene in the Libyan uprising, given that country's complex tribal structure. Indeed, not everyone in the West seems convinced of a western intervention, either. “Should NATO get involved in a civil war to the south of the Mediterranean? It is a question that merits at least some reflection before being launched,” French Prime Minister Francois Fillion reportedly observed. Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said his country would not endorse foreign intervention in Libya. The Iranian Foreign Ministry warned the West against any military intervention, saying the U.S. shouldn't take advantage of the popular movement in Libya to turn the country into a military base. Russia and China also seem to disfavour foreign intervention.
However, what is most disconcerting is that the Indian government has begun echoing the Obama administration's rhetoric. A pattern is emerging: New Delhi's mood changes, its pauses of silence and its cadence of articulation on the Arab revolt bear an uncanny resemblance to the twists and turns, ambivalences and ambiguities and the agony and ecstasy of Mr. Obama's rhetoric. It took our thoughtful External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna no time to repudiate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's position that we are not in the business of teaching others the ABC of democracy. Who overruled Dr. Singh? Who encouraged Mr. Krishna?
Therefore, the decision to dispatch two warships to the Mediterranean merits watch. (Now it transpires that the Navy's fleet replenishment tanker also has been sent.) Pray, if evacuation of Indian nationals is an urgent priority, why not charter more aircraft or commercial ships that constantly ply the Mediterranean? That was what China did. As of Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it evacuated to safety 29,000 nationals from Libya. That is 11,000 more than the entire Indian community in Libya. What is happening? We're “twittering” and twiddling our thumbs waiting for our two warships and the fleet replenishment tanker in tow to reach Libya's coast, hopefully by mid-March. Let us hope Mr. Qadhafi will somehow cling on to power until then so that our warships can do some “rescue” act.
It seems Mr. Qadhafi's bestiality provided on a platter a great opportunity to test the “interoperability” of our warships with NATO. Such an enterprise fits into the U.S.-Indian strategic narrative on the security of the “global commons.” Coincidence or not, the western alliance has mentioned partnership with India as one of its three key global priorities in 2011. The U.S. has all along been encouraging India to develop a partnership programme with NATO. Indeed, NATO has kept up subsoil contacts with the Indian defence and foreign policy establishments in the recent years, but these were low-key, given India's traditional aversion to any entanglements with military alliances. The Libyan situation offers the pretext for displaying and stimulating the NATO-Indian partnership. An operation with NATO is precisely the sort of “leap of faith” the U.S. has been demanding from India. Without doubt, this complex shadow play becomes part of India's baptism in order to push its bid for permanent membership of the Security Council. The Indian leadership owes some decent explanation to the public before jettisoning lock, stock and barrel the cornerstones of this country's post-independent foreign policy.
The irony is that non-violence in Libya becomes the rubric for militarisation of foreign policy. After referring Mr. Qadhafi to the ICC, shouldn't India sign the Rome Statute and become an ICC member-country? Ideally, we should also persuade Mr. Obama, who admires Gandhiji, to revoke his predecessor's decision to pull the U.S. out of the ICC. The 65 dead souls in Kunar deserve to get justice, too.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)