At least 55 US soldiers have so far died in peacekeeping in Iraq since May 1. And the United States says Iraq is not ready for democracy. If the Iraqis dont like it, they can lump it. As it stands, the Americans cant lump it. Their rising death toll alarms them. (Well, each time one US soldier dies, so do many Iraqis. But thats another story.) And more and more people in that country are confronting the occupying power.
Listen to the New York Times: American forces are carrying out their largest single military operation in Iraq since the end of major fighting... The Associated Press puts it this way: an amalgam of shadowy resistance forces, including unknown numbers of non-Iraqi fighters, are carrying out almost daily hit-and-run attacks against the American occupation forces. The Guardian, UK, says: Attacks occur daily -- more than a dozen every day in the past week, according to some accounts. The paper had this to say of the British minister in charge of reconstruction in Iraq. Baroness Amos had to admit ... that she is unable to visit that country. Why? Because of the risk of guerrilla attack.
Thats how serious things are. Whoever patrols the streets of Iraq is going to kill often -- and often be killed.
Its in this mess that India is being called up to act as chowkidar to the empire. The lives of Indian soldiers are more expendable -- in American eyes. But should the eyes of an Indian government see it the same way? Thats frightening. We are being hired to patrol the empires latest outpost. To be the fall guys for its folly.
Wed be magnets for popular anger in one of the worlds most volatile spots -- at a time when the Americans are contemplating a war on neighbouring Iran. What happens if Indian troops are stuck in Iraq when the US moves for regime change in Iran? The possible consequences are mind-blowing. Indian jawans would then be at extreme risk. As always, well re-learn that it is far easier to get into such holes than out of them. Until next time.
And, as always, the decisions will be taken by those whose children will never fight on any front. That too, on a war Indians hated in the first place. One that our parliament, alone in the world, condemned in a resolution. Its odd that Vajpayee and Advani should seek a national consensus on sending troops to Iraq. The rest of us thought we had one. Parliaments resolution is the clearest consensus that exists in this nation on that issue.
Suddenly its, hey guys, lets be real! Its only the lives of our poorer classes. Theres many more where those came from. Think of the gains to be made from carrying the White Mans Burden. Might give us crumbs from the White Mans Contracts.
Meanwhile the US has bullied the Security Council (June 12) into giving its troops a years exemption from the new International War Crimes Tribunal. Only the American peace keeping forces have got that. The U.S. sees trouble ahead and will not have its military brought before the tribunal. So much better to have Indians face that music. As they will, when hell breaks loose. Note that Indian troops are not even being spoken of as peace keepers. They will be a stabilisation force. Words that imply an active, and if need be, aggressive role. The journey to Iraq will have little in common with the over 30 UN peacekeeping missions that Indian troops have been part of in the past. This time our soldiers will be seen as front men for the occupiers. And will face an increasingly hostile Iraqi public.
Indian security personnel havent had the best of times right here at home. In the past decade or so, weve had 15, 000 of them killed or wounded in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the North East. More than 3,500 killed in Kashmir alone since 1991. (Not to mention 11,000 dead civilians.) Heres the new step. Troop exports. Now the government might pledge even more of these lives to the US. In Iraq, we will be on clearly defined foreign territory. Once again, were looking at the readiness of Indias ruling classes to risk the lives of poor Indians -- which is what our jawans are. This time to align and ingratiate ourselves with US power. And take our place in Americas New World Odour. (The permission given this week to two US warships to dock in Kochi is one more step in that direction. Both ships are involved in the war in Iraq.)
Plus, by sending our troops, we get to earn a quick buck on the side. So Indian companies will gain what lusting newspapers call lucrative contracts. And we can sacrifice a few hundred jawans, maybe many more, so that our CEOs can do even better in the next Forbes and Fortune lists. Never mind that these lucrative contracts could place us morally in the ranks of contract killers. No wonder the Americans are seeking our help. They are body shopping in a literal sense. This is one outsourcing of jobs their unions wont protest. The job of dying for US imperialism.
There is, of course, another reason why some in government are so keen to get into this chowkidari. Election year draws near. And the cynical Back us. Our boys are dying which we heard in Kargil could make the rounds again. Kargil saw the most incompetent defence minister in our history cover up a colossal failure. And succeed because the media wouldnt call his bluff. Our soldiers died in hundreds. The minister, many scandals later -- including one about over-priced coffins for dead soldiers -- is still there. A government with its back to the wall on every issue was able to make that cynical Stand united behind the NDA appeal.
Stoking Iraqi hatred in a new and unwarranted direction doesnt count. Elections do. And a diversion from the serious political and economic issues of the day is crucial. If you have an Indian force in Iraq, daily losing lives to snipers and other local attacks, thats the sort of mess an Advani revels in. Maybe hell take out a rath yatra to rally support for the troops. Men whose lives could in the first place be jeopardised by his colleagues and himself.
Arguably, India should have done well as peace keeper in Sri Lanka. Didnt both sides accept us, at least to begin with? Instead, our stint there provided Colombo with a diversion. It gave the LTTE a focus for their hatred. Over 1100 men of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) laid down their lives in Sri Lanka. Thats more than double the number who died at Kargil. There will be no one happy to see us in Baghdad. There will, of course, be the usual bunch of regime PROs (some still call themselves journalists) filing those first few stories of a euphoric welcome. Pictures of someone garlanding an Indian soldier. Maybe one of our guys kissing a baby. Then reality sets in.
With all the experience of Sri Lanka behind them. With all the evidence of Iraq before them. Still, quite a few experts, analysts and editors argue its a good idea. Take a look at the editorials in some of our leading newspapers.
One says it makes sense to send a stabilisation force to that country. Indeed the situation demand(s) that we do so. Another says that Russia, Germany and France have now dropped their principled stand against the war for a real time share in the lucrative Iraqi reconstruction pie. The moral: New Delhi cannot stand on principle in thinking out its foreign policy options in post-war Iraq. Its time to start planning, boys, for the Baghdad Bandobast. One newspaper is thrilled by the team from Washington that came to Delhi seeking a rent-an-army deal. Our soldiers may be handed a United Nations fig leaf. Their expenses could be borne nominally by that body. But the Americans will pay us a few dollars more. That didnt excite the paper. What did was that the team ...highlighted New Delhis impeccable record in peacekeeping abroad.
Well, we withdrew battered from Sri Lanka. And scrambled out of Somalia in chaos. Thats an impeccable record?
Think, too, of the fallout at home of our troops getting bogged down in Iraq. When every militant Islamic group there (and perhaps from Iran and elsewhere) targets the jawans as an occupation force. How will that tell on communal tensions here? What a tonic it would be for Togadia and Thackeray, amongst so many others. But that shouldnt upset a bunch whose careers were built on ideologies of hatred. Maybe as the Americans withdraw, well send Modi in as Governor of occupied Iraq. Hed be impartial in hating all the Muslims there, Shia and Sunni alike. Christians, too.
At the base, are crude motives of electoral and financial gain for a few. Pointing to post-facto UN resolutions okaying US actions just makes it worse. Do the people of the nations voting for these resolutions see it that way? The Spanish government supported a war 85 per cent of its public opposed. Far more importantly, will the people of Iraq view it that way? Do our own people see it that way?
Historically, the British used Indian soldiers as cannon fodder for their conquests across the globe. Close to 90, 000 Indian troops died for the Raj in just World War I. Thats more soldiers than India has lost in all our wars and insurgencies since independence. In 1915-16 alone, thousands of Indian troops died in Iraq, the then Mesopotamia. Then too, a western power was attempting a regime change. Our men were sacrificed by the British in their war against Turkey. The year had been disastrous for the Brits. The debacle at Gallipoli meant the war ministry in London needed a propaganda success.
So they threw away the lives of over 22,000 soldiers -- thousands of them Indians. That, in a bid to take Baghdad, as the Guardian, U.K. pointed out last year. Even today in the region, wrote Ross Davies in that paper, ...there are 22,400 graves (more than two-thirds of the troops who fought in Mesopotamia were Indians whose faith required cremation rather than burial).
Then they died for the British empire. Now, theyre being asked to die for the American empire. Then, it could be argued, we were a colony -- and had no choice. Today, in the era of globalised markets, well be doing it for lucrative contracts. An independent nation driven by the greed and delusions of a few to seek what might well be a quislings reward.