Amit Baruah

India should look at the long-term impact of its foreign policy in relation to terrorism.

THE SPECTRE of terrorism has haunted India for more than two decades. Indian officials, rightly, never tire of telling the West that terrorism did not begin on September 11, 2001, and that India had been the victim of the menace for many, many years. Apart from the obvious law and order methods called for, any country grappling with terrorism must obviously create an enabling environment where there are no "causes" or "perceived causes" that can be used to incite more violence.

The Times of London recently reported that a top-secret memo from the British Joint Intelligence Committee concluded that the Iraq war was likely to be a motivating factor "for some time to come" in the radicalisation of British Muslims.

The "leaked" memo, approved among others by the chiefs of MI5 and MI6, Eliza Manningham-Buller and John Scarlett, said there was a "clear consensus" in the British extremist community that the Iraqi jihad was a legitimate one and should be supported. Written in April 2005, the memo made a damning admission: "We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term."

Just as British intelligence has analysed the implications of what can now only be called a civil war in Iraq, with all kinds of terrorist groups active, India, too, needs to look at the long-term impact of its foreign policy and approach in relation to violence and terrorism. (Needless to say, there has been no course correction by London following its uncritical participation in the invasion of Iraq). It is nobody's case that fear should be a factor in the formulation of foreign policy. At the same time, national security analysts can ill-afford to ignore the impact of embracing policies that might increase threats from terrorist groups or invite the ire of those whose attentions were previously focussed elsewhere.

In the context of Iraq, it is well known that the National Democratic Alliance Government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee came within a whisker of sending Indian troops to Iraq in the summer of 2003. At the last moment, Mr. Vajpayee developed cold feet and the troops, which had been identified, were not dispatched.

Apart from the fact that the people of India are generally opposed to unilateralist policy approaches, had New Delhi sent troops to Iraq it would have substantially increased the threat of violence to Indians in general both at home and abroad. While the troops were never sent in 2003, India has now entered into new and higher levels of collaboration with the United States as far as the promotion of "democracy" is concerned. Increasingly, India appears on the "same page" as the U.S. on key global issues.

By appearing to act in concert with the U.S. on issues such as the promotion of democracy, India is not doing its citizens a favour. At this point of time, the greatest threat to the life and limb of ordinary, innocent Americans emanates from the policies being pursued by the Bush administration.

Washington, by pursuing disastrous policies such as the invasion of Iraq, has fallen into the trap of radical Islamists. These Islamist terrorists have successfully used images of Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay to puncture gaping holes in American credibility over the so-called war on terrorism.

India cannot be party to the kind of democracy that has been implanted in Iraq. It must distance itself from what is happening in Iraq; if India wants to emerge as a player on the world stage it must have its own voice and own opinion on a range of issues. In the spanking new U.N. fund for the promotion of democracy, the U.S. and India are leading nations. The people of India need to be informed about the kind of projects that this fund may take up in the future. The American embrace of India comes with a price tag attached to it. As the March visit of U.S. President George W. Bush demonstrated, the Indo-American agenda extends from a "second green revolution" to the civilian nuclear understanding between the countries.

One price that the people and Government of India might have to pay for the Manmohan Singh Government's strategic alliance with the U.S. is the increased threats from international Islamist groups. India must maintain proper, cordial relations with the U.S while ensuring that standing with Washington does not in any way enhance the risks to its citizens. For this to happen, India must say its piece independently on global issues. That includes Iraq.