Lt Gen Ashok Joshi (Retd)
There is a strong lobby of political and defence analysts including former soldiers, sailors, and airmen who advise the Government to accept the US invitation to induct a divisional-size force into Iraq on a peace-keeping assignment. Although a fair number of analysts would like the peace-keeping mission to be undertaken under the aegis of the UN, some are not averse to undertaking the mission in concert with the coalition of the willing.
The Government, so far, has declined the invitation pleading the absence of the UN aegis for the peace keeping mission. This creates the general impression that the mission is desirable except for the UN cover.
This article advocates that if at all an Indian force is to be sent to Iraq, in no circumstances should it undertake the traditional peace-keeping or peace-enforcement roles in Iraq unless some preconditions are fulfilled in Iraq, and there is a reasonable certainty that India will make some tangible national gains.
The desirability of undertaking peace-keeping mission in Iraq has been justified mostly on the basis of convergence of US, Indian, and Iraqi interests; and prizes that await India if it were to accept the invitation. And contrariwise, the penalties and consequences that India would attract by not availing itself of this god-sent opportunity have been highlighted, not to mention the tribulations of turning down the US request.
It would appear that the US plan to absorb Iraq into the preferred World Order was predicated upon the following assumptions by the US.
The US troops would be welcome by large sections of Iraqi population with open arms.
Saddam Hussein and his close associates—not less than fifty two of them--would be captured and tried or eliminated. When freed from the terror of Saddam, the people in Iraq would opt for the policies laid out for them by the US.
The non-resident Iraqi dissidents, on induction in Iraq, would have a sufficient following to enable the US to effectively govern Iraq.
Weapons of mass destructions would be found, or could be put on display. This would convince the world at large, and the population in the Arab world in particular, that but for the US intervention they would have been at great peril; and for a lasting effect, they ought to support a durable US presence in Iraq.
The sectarian or tribal cleavages and strife in Iraq would provide sufficient justification for the US to continue in Iraq for as long as necessary.
None of the assumptions have been borne out, and therefore, plain governance has become a very formidable task for the coalition of the willing in Iraq. And without effective governance, the likelihood of effective relief to the hard-pressed people in Iraq is difficult to manage. In itself, this is a catch twenty-two situation. It is not difficult to appreciate that ever since the First Gulf War, the population is virtually at the end of its tether what with following sanctions and no-fly zone restrictions on Iraq. This can be said without countering the US conclusion that but for Saddam, this would have been most unnecessary.
And peace will not come to Iraq unless there is some kind of agreement on the ultimate vision for Iraq between the coalition of the willing and people of Iraq.
We quite do not know what kind of vision the coalition of the willing has for Iraq; we know even less if it is acceptable to the Iraqis. Democracy by itself cannot and does not represent the vision in entirety and can never be anymore than the means to an end. At present there is an attempt by the coalition of the willing to present democracy in Iraq as the ultimate end. There is no definite indication about what kind of democracy is intended for Iraq, and how it is to be brought about, and when. Democracy as a distant goal may not appeal to the aspirations of Iraqis. Such relief as might have been experienced by Iraqis at the downfall of Saddam has evaporated by now. Iraqis at present are certainly concerned with their daily lives, but they are not unconcerned about their political future.
Iraq as a nation-state is a construct of the former British Empire, brought about during the years of the Mandate, obtained by Great Britain from the League of Nations at the end of the Great War. Their intention was to look after the Imperial interests in the Middle-East which included not only the oil, but also the need for countering the Germany influence. It is quite likely that the animosity to the US presence may well unite all the sub-nationalities in Iraq--Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias, and not forgetting the identities of tribes that make up these sub-nationalities. If this happens, there is no knowing as to forms that the political resistance to the US led coalition of the willing may take. Amongst the worst possible scenarios is the insurgency of the 'mujahids' pattern led by the Shias in the South, and the guerrilla warfare by the remnants of the Saddam loyalists.
If the turbulence is not brought under control in good time, the work of reconstruction would not only be difficult, it would be actively set back by deliberate action by the dissidents who do not approve of the Iraq Council. Governance in Iraq is going to be very difficult for a number of reasons:
The society in Iraq was used to a very repressive state apparatus. The recalcitrant elements may not respond to gentle persuasion. The increasing use of force would be necessary.
Common Iraqis have lived under the strangulating regime of sanctions for almost a decade. They are already deprived. The US was at pains to point out before the invasion that although the sanctions and the no no-fly zone had been imposed at its behest, the responsibility for the misery of the Iraqis lay squarely with Saddam. That logic may prove to be of small comfort to the people of Iraq. They are bound to vent their anger against whosoever is exercising authority. They may not want to distinguish between those who were bombing them not long ago, and those who have now come to mend and heal.
What Iraq needs today are dedicated and enlightened men and women who can do for Iraq what the founding fathers had done for the US. These men and women have to be of Iraqi choice and not imposed. They have to be democratically elected, and their advice has to be debated, evaluated, and then accepted or rejected by the people of Iraq. What they say, or do not say, may, or may not be, to the liking of the coalition. If people of Iraq see this happening they may agree to an interim phase. If not, they are likely to reject anything and everything and go back to more comforting fundamentalism. What Iraq needs at present is visible evidence that this constitution making process is well underway. It is not being suggested that things would be easy thereafter. Those who undertake peace-keeping and reconstruction missions would be severely tested. The probability of success may not be high. But, at least, the mission would not be seen in the Islamic world as purely self-serving. The Islamic sensibilities need to be reckoned by all governments in the Sub-continent, apart of course, from ethical and practical considerations.
Whosoever ventures into Iraq with a peace-keeping mission before the constitution making process is launched, is likely to be unavoidably saddled with repressive governance; and even worse, clubbed as an invader with the coalition of the willing.
What gains could India make from undertaking this mission that would justify getting into the quagmire with eyes open; US appreciation of the trouble taken? What practical shape would this appreciation take? What assurances have been given in vague terms is anyone’s guess, but would they have more credibility than explicit assurances about efforts to staunch cross-border terrorism into India? Would India get the US support on a seat on the UN Security Council with full veto powers? Will India get transfer of specific technologies? Will the US amend its non-proliferation agenda with respect to India? Is 300 million dollars of compensation enough for the mission?
Will India win appreciation of the Islamic world for having helped a down and out Iraq? Or will India be counted amongst those who joined the US in subjugating Iraq?
Even those analysts who do not support Iraqi freedom choose to back the Indian peace-keeping force in Iraq in the name of pragmatism and boldness. Unqualified boldness cannot be a guide in policy formulation, much less pragmatism shorn of ethical considerations.
The only justification for realpolitik is success, or near certainty of success. Nothing can be more odious or smelly than realpolitik that flops. Apart from the immediate unpleasantness and discomfiture, the lasting impact of realpolitik that fails cannot but be damaging. It is much better to eschew realpolitik unless there is a very high probability that the sought after prizes would be secured. In other circumstances, it is more prudent, and pragmatic, yes pragmatic, to rely on value based and ethical policies which may yield at least some positive result in the long run.
The UN aegis may not be sufficient for India to venture into Iraq with a peace-keeping force. It could offer to undertake reconstruction projects and own protection if such options are available. There is nothing that stops India from making such a counter offer.
Such is the effect of the bitter memories of Vietnam, that the ‘Free’ American media has only now hesitatingly began to call the situation in Iraq as ‘Guerrilla War like ‘ situation. The truth is that both in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, the Americans are carrying out classic counter-insurgency operations. The Americans have their reasons to hide the reality, but why should Indian media follow in their footsteps? Thus understood the question before India really is, do we want to send Indian army to fight a guerrilla war in Iraq? Peace Keeping operations by UN or by other countries imply that the majority of population, political groups , the administration and warring groups, are all agreed to their presence and the effort. In Iraq except for the Kurdish minority, the Americans have no supporters.
None of the conditions necessary for peace keeping to succeed obtain in Iraq. Instead it is a classic Guerrilla War wherein the Iraqi army melted into the population in face of overwhelming odds. There was enough warning of the impending war hence it would be prudent to assume that this strategic retreat and subsequent use of guerrilla techniques were a prepared response. The inability of the Americans to capture Saddam Hussein and his close associates indicates both the degree of preparation and extent of support to the former ruler. With plentiful supply of small arms and ammunition/explosives, the Iraqis could fight this war for a long long period without any external support.
Indian army indeed has a shining record in fighting this form of warfare. It is also possibly the world’s most experienced army in counter-insurgency. On the other hand the American record on this score is dismal. There are several reasons for this, including proclivity for technological fixes, impatience with results, unsuitable manpower and low quality of junior leadership. Despite their years of fighting in Vietnam the Americans have neither produced a viable doctrine not a thinker on this form of warfare.
But Guerrilla War is essentially a politico-military operation. The Indian army owes its success internally to the genuine-ness of Indian democracy, the all inclusive Indian constitution and close co-ordination between military force and political process. We have a sorry example of Sri Lankan peace keeping operations where we paid a very heavy cost and failed in our mission. Initially when the Indian army went to Sri Lanka, it was indeed welcomed by the Tamils and Sinhalas ( hos so ever grudgingly). But due to the ineptness and larger than life size ego of our diplomat there and suicide by 16 LTTE men, the peace keeping operation soon changed to counter insurgency. In effect the Indian army became a tool in the hands of the wily Jayvardhane and began to do the job that the Sri Lankan army could not. In this new role the Indian army failed as it had no control or influence with the political process. In short we were operating in a political vacuum. Unless we remember the lessons of Sri Lanka, we may well land in similar situation in Iraq.
In this scenario, a mere UN mandate without taking the ‘real’ Iraqi representatives in confidence, would make no difference to the situation on ground.
There are indeed many Indian interests in the Middle East. We have large number of Indians working in the Gulf region, Iraq owes us money, we need their oil and would like to develop our budding partnership with the US. Question is not whether there are sufficient positive reasons or not but given the circumstances what are the chances of success of Indian effort. But before going on this one must disabuse ourselves of the notion that our Iraq effort would help us wean away the US from its Pakistan fixation….that is not going to happen. Pakistan is possibly the best client state that the US has in Muslim world and there is no reason why the US would like to lose this asset. US is and will put extra pressure on Pakistan to turn off Jihadis from attacking India. But here failure is pre-ordained because the Jihadis are no longer under anybody’s effective control. In light of this we ought to ponder over whether we are in a position to spare large number of troops?
The only condition under which India could and should send its troops is if we have a role in future of Iraq and are able to get genuine Iraqi support for our efforts. While in the interim India could well offer its services for reconstruction effort. We could provide troops for the security of these construction teams. Having thus tested the waters we could gradually increase our presence. Else it would simply mean that we act as security sub-contractors for Americans. Why we should let Americans replace US body bags with Indian body bags, is the question.
A word of caution though. Like the bad old days of Sri Lanka, so again in Iraq. We sent a diplomat but no soldiers to study the situation on ground. We must also carefully work out the command relationship between our political/diplomatic representative and military head and with the American/UN command. Else we would have a triangular slanging match between various levels of command and diplomats. This is not a fantasy for some one who has seen the fracas between the commander of the IPKF and Southern Command and the non-communication between high commissioner at Colombo and military commander in Jaffna.