The question of whether India can and should send troops to Iraq has once again come to centre stage with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee meeting United States President George Bush this week. The arguments for and against India sending troops remain as valid today as they were a month ago. Given the fact that India would like the US to win the war against terrorism in the region, it must put its money where its mouth is and help the US in its efforts. No one wants to see the US fail in Iraq. Equally, given the mess the US has created in the region, with its ham-handed handling of the post-War situation, and US insensitivity towards Indian concerns with respect to terrorism in our neighbourhood, the arguments against teaming up with the US have also acquired legitimacy. Some believe that if the US makes friendly gestures towards India, like lifting economic sanctions and getting tougher with Pakistan, then India should consider sending troops. This is an excessively self-centered way of dealing with a major foreign and strategic policy challenge.
Rather, India should offer to help the US in Iraq if the US moves to ensure that Iraq is governed by Iraqis. What this means is that Iraq needs a road map for the transfer of power to a local leadership and the US needs the equivalent of a Lord Mountbatten who will undertake that responsibility. The road map can have alternative time horizons depending on how things pan out and what happens on the ground. No date need be set right now for the final transfer of power, but the milestones must be put in place so that the direction of the journey is clear. The US has shown that it has not been able to stabilise the situation on the ground. Rather, new uncertainties have emerged making Turkey and Iran more nervous. What Iraq needs is the equivalent of the Bonn process as in the case of Afghanistan. A coming together of all concerned and a fleshing out of a national government. Sure, a US Mountbatten has no Nehru to deal with as yet, but the process must begin and this itself would ease the US burden and enable India at least to step in and help.