|CURRENT ISSUE JUNE 30, 2003|
NEWSNOTES: FIRST TAKE
To Go or Not to Go: India Ponders the Iraqi Question
One thing is clear: If India decides to deploy troops in Iraq, the exchequer will have to pay for the Indian soldiers' salaries, at least until Iraq's oil revenues flow in. That is only one of the dilemmas the Government is grappling with as it weighs the wisdom of responding to the US appeal. The other sticking points are the troubled situation on the ground, the lack of a clear UN mandate, the absence of an Iraqi authority and how other Arab nations will react.
Mostly, the dilemma is political: if India takes such a radical stand, what is the US willing to give in return? That is still not quite clear to Delhi. Clarity is awaited-and may take till the end of Pervez Musharraf's Camp David summit with President George W. Bush when it will be decided whether the Pakistani President walks off with military goodies. Protagonists point to a compelling reason to send troops to Iraq: to protect Indian energy interests there. The ONGC has got the contract to develop an area called Block 8 in southern Iraq, next door to the Russian Rumaila oilfields, while a deal for the Tuba oilfields (one billion barrels) close to Basra is almost in India's lap. But even this is not seen to be reason enough to tilt the balance for the Government. Meanwhile, India will consult Turkey and Iran, Iraq's key neighbours, on any decision-the former on the Kurd issue, and the latter to ensure that Najaf-Karbala in Iraq do not upstage Qom in Iran as the seat of Shia power.