Foreign Views: Colonial cousins
Indo-US-Israeli alliance has too many sharp angles
By Kuldip Nayar
Brajesh mishra’s advocacy of an “US-Israel-India” alliance is too serious a proposition to be overlooked. It cannot be an off-the-cuff remark. He is a discreet person.
The positions Mishra occupies — national security adviser and principal secretary to the prime minister — makes his statement all the more significant. Is it really a policy statement? Does it mean that New Delhi is in the midst of some such arrangement? Is it a concrete proposal or a mere trial balloon?
Whatever the truth, the observation is unfortunate. After the fall of Iraq, the Arab world is dismayed and demoralised. There is a change in its thinking. It wants to look towards India and explore civilisational linkages and shared philosophy. During my recent visit to Saudi Arabia, I perceived a yearning to have close relations with New Delhi. But there were also some misgivings. One leading editor told me that when they wanted to turn to India, “after having been cheated by America”, they had to pause and wonder how far New Delhi had gone to woo Tel Aviv.
We are suspect in the eyes of most Arabs. They tend to believe that we already have “military and strategic ties” with Israel. Some even think that its intelligence network, Mossad, is enmeshed in ours. Our policy should have been to push Israel towards West Asia where its roots are. At present it is psychologically too near to Washington for the Arabs’ comfort. No doubt, Tel Aviv will one day realise that its destiny and the region are inextricably linked. But, in the meanwhile, it should not be denying the Palestinians their due or appropriating the territory of its neighbours.
The anti-American feeling has increased in the Arab world. So has the hostility towards Israel which can nullify it by making Palestine a generous offer. This may help the Arabs accept Israel.
Today, the Arabs feel that Israel, with the help of America, wants to crush or punish them. America’s roadmap for peace in West Asia, if and when implemented, falls short of the Palestinians’ expectations. Tel Aviv’s acceptance matters. So does that of others in the region. For a permanent peace, Israel will have to go back to its original borders. From that angle, the formula put forth by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince that Israel vacate forcibly occupied territory is realistic.
What it means is Israel will have to destroy its settlements on lands belonging to neighbouring countries. India cannot condone aggression. The struggle of the Palestinians for a place in the sun has fashioned our outlook on West Asia. The large Muslim population in our country also necessitates such a policy. Our products, however crude, find many buyers in Arab countries. Nearly 30 lakh Indians are employed in the region.
The land of Mahatma Gandhi has to take a principled stand. It certainly cannot opt for a policy which seems to tacitly support immoral action by the strong. The fact that even the UN has given legitimacy to the US attack on Iraq while lifting sanctions does not mean that values have no place in foreign policy. Jawaharlal Nehru proved otherwise when he formulated the concept of non-alignment in the face of two power blocs at loggerheads. It is not easy for even great powers to reintroduce colonial control over territories which have become independent. This was exemplified by the Suez crisis in 1956. Also, what happened in Hungary demonstrated that the desire for national freedom is stronger than any ideology and cannot ultimately be suppressed. What happened in Hungary was not a conflict between communism and anti-communism. It was a desire for freedom from foreign control. The US attack on Iraq saw millions of ordinary people demonstrating in protest against the act. Even supplicant nations showed their annoyance and America and Britain were on the defensive. They took shelter behind the cliches of good governance and freedom from religious bigotry. But there was less justification and more helplessness in the circumstances.
Mishra goes beyond a mere statement. He justifies the proposal for an US-Israel-India alliance on the ground that it will have “the political will and moral authority to take bold decisions in extreme cases of terrorist provocation”. Is he building a case for America to strike wherever it wants in the name of fighting terrorism? He was more explicit while launching a book in New Delhi. He said: “One either changes the policy to suit the environment or changes the environment to suit the policy.” Indeed, Washington changed the environment to suit the policy when it attacked Iraq without UN sanction. The neo-conservatives who guide President Bush have given a new interpretation to democracy: direct rule by Washington. Surely, this is not what Mishra has in mind! If he has and if the Vajpayee government stands by him, it is a policy not sanctioned by Parliament.
Such a major change in foreign policy should be debated in the country to see if the majority of the people are for it. By trying to align ourselves with America and Israel, we may be leaving the region to desperate men and mythical characters who dream of vengeance all the time. West Asia is the cradle of civilisation. It has seen the rise and fall of many monarchs and exploitation and betrayal. India, which freed itself from a mighty empire only half a century ago, cannot afford to advocate alliances on the basis of power, strength or money. This negates what we have stood for. Many small, weak countries are pinning their hopes on India. —Indian Express