Years ago, when America embarked on one of its most hare-brained ventures—the overthrow of Saddam Hussein—it scouted around for partners. Opinion in India was divided on the repercussions. But a section vociferously argued that American mission would lead to political transformation in the region and would be civilising: Iraq would first embrace Americans, then democracy; the example that Iraq would set would inspire other Arab nations to turn into democracies. They argued it was a major strategic opportunity for India, if it aligned early and firmly with the Americans. George Bush would certainly emerge the winner. And to the winner would go the spoils of the war. The earlier India aligned with him the bigger the share. That India ought to have learned from the first Gulf War, when V P Singh sent foreign minister I K Gujral all the way to Baghdad to hug, then kiss, Saddam on both his dictatorial cheeks to bring back Indians trapped in the war zone safely. Helpless handwringing and recitation of inane non-aligned mantras on the sidelines would get India nothing.
As a reporter, I tested the central thesis of democracy flowering by asking the then Iraqi Ambassador to India, Salah al-Mukhtar. “What about the argument that this campaign is about promoting democracy?” I asked him innocently. He had rubbished it then, almost frothing at the mouth. “All concepts of democracy, whether it is the Soviet concept or a liberal concept, by definition, express a nation’s free will. It is not a process determined by someone else. Where someone else does the job on your behalf, it is not democracy. Call it anarchy, but it’s not democracy. Bush’s philosophy is to impose democracy by killing hundreds and thousands, maybe millions, of people by occupying another nation, by violating its dignity and honour. What kind of democracy is it that comes about by spilling blood? This is nonsense.”
I pointed out cleverly to the ambassador that Americans believed democracy would not come to Iraq otherwise. He retorted: “So what? This is not their business. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is no democracy in Iraq. Is it the job of Americans to correct the situation in Iraq? This is nonsense, colonial logic. If democracy were to be brought into the region, each and every country in the region would boot the Americans out the next day.” His Excellency alleged violently that the journalists taking the American line were controlled by the CIA and American embassy in Delhi. How can you be so sure? I’d asked him even more innocently. “We know it. We know it for sure. We know that they are going to the embassy to receive their salary every month and sometimes every week. Otherwise, how can you imagine journalists propagating the mass killing of civilians in Iraq?” By this time, he was practically screaming on top of his voice.
I don’t know about the money part. But the analysis part they got it wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong all the way. Would you call Iraq a democracy? Iraq has gone from secular to sectarian, from stability to anarchy. As India watches the deepening hostage crisis unfold, it is ironical that it is in the very areas around Mosul that the Americans had been secretly cajoling New Delhi to send troops for stabilisation work. But more of that later.
Sudarshan is the author of Anatomy of an Abduction: How the Indian Hostages in Iraq Were Freed