India may okay 'U.N.-mandated force'

NEW DELHI AUG. 10. The Vajpayee Government may have said "no" to deploying its troops in Iraq under the present conditions of "occupation" by American and British forces on July 14, but it is closely monitoring moves for a new United Nations Security Council resolution.

Highly-placed sources in the Ministry of External Affairs told this correspondent that as per the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security, India could consider sending its troops if there was an explicit Security Council resolution.

Dropping a position that had been taken in the past that India was against any form of "sub-contracting", the sources appeared comfortable with the idea of an "U.N.-mandated force" as opposed to an "U.N.-led force".

In a related development, the new British Secretary of State for International Development, Valerie Amos, told The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday that another U.N. resolution would be "excellent". Specifically, Ms. Amos said the new resolution would give countries including India, Pakistan and Turkey the "domestic cover" they need to contribute to a multinational force. "There are some countries which would like to contribute to the peacekeeping effort but couldn't do that if there weren't another resolution," she said in an interview. "The Americans are doing exactly the same thing [drawing up proposals for a new resolution]." The Amos reference to India and the need for "domestic cover" is interesting given the parameters of the decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security on July 14.

But the Ministry of External Affairs sources remain sceptical about the degree of consensus that has been achieved within the Bush administration and point to contradictory positions reportedly taken by the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon. "An internal consensus in the United States is linked to an international consensus in the United Nations, which in turn is linked to a domestic consensus in India," the sources commented. "The U.S. has international responsibilities when it comes to Iraq. To stabilise the situation there, the U.N. ought to play a central role," they added.

Signalling that the Government was not averse to considering sending troops to join a multinational force, the MEA sources favoured the strengthening of the "non-security" role of the United Nations in Iraq. They suggested that the "Liberia model" adopted by the U.N. Security Council (in passing Resolution 1497 at the behest of the United States) to set up a "multinational force" would be a sufficient condition for India to consider joining such a force. The Liberia Resolution also speaks of a U.N. peacekeeping role in the longer term.

In restrained criticism of the United States, the sources remarked that a Washington that did not see much value for the U.N. in Iraq had acted differently in the case of Liberia. The "non-security" role of the U.N. in Iraq — in driving the political process forward — should be strengthened in any new resolution that might be passed by the Security Council, they added.

The Government of India, which has been opposed to the idea of creating multinational forces that are not under explicit U.N. command and has been critical of key permanent members of the Security Council, views the issue differently today.

Independent observers caution that whatever be the final outcome at the United Nations, New Delhi would do well to consider carefully the ground situation in Iraq, where basic services to the people remain elusive and attacks against the "occupation" forces take place virtually every day.