The UNSC voted for wide ranging measures including a ‘no-fly zone’ and possible use of force against the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Ten members including the US voted for the resolution, while Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany abstained. Within a short time of the passage of the UN Resolution, the Gaddafi regime announced an immediate cease fire but reports from the ground indicated that rebel positions were still being bombed and a fresh toll of 25 including children was also reported.
India has abstained citing a lack of clarity on the wide ranging measures. It also called the resolution a ‘precedent’ forming one that may give rise to future UN action in third countries. It is justifiably opposed to the use of force if other measures can be more effective. India is also worried about wholesale freezing of regime assets as that may, in its view, affect Libya’s overall economy and ultimately affect the common people. Last but not least, there remain some 2,000 Indian workers who have voluntarily chosen to stay back in Libya. On the face of it, the decision to abstain thus appears to be well thought out.
It has, however, shown India’s distaste, and perhaps inability, to take a clear position on international issues. Millions of Indians work and send back large sums of money to India, which remains dependent on Middle Eastern oil supplies. India has also shown great sensitivity to issues that may be seen as close to Indian Muslims and hence usually is extremely careful when dealing with Arab countries. India’s decision to vote against Iran in the IAEA was criticised by many as a sell out to the US. Given the current turmoil over the cash-for-vote Wikileaks controversy, it is possible that the government of the day did not want to give the opposition another opportunity to raise the issue of US influence.
In this case the Arab League had demanded stern measures against the Gaddafi regime as it feared the loss of more innocent lives. How would India placate wider Arab opinion? Seeing the trend of the discussion at the UNSC, Indian diplomats might have known that the passage of the Resolution did not depend on the Indian vote and abstention would not matter as India also would have secretly desired a quick end to the bloodshed in Libya. Was this then a smart move?
It is quite possible, if not likely, that despite the cease fire the Libyan situation will remain murky for a long time. Although a quiet exit for the Gaddafi family was speculated, it now seems that he will not leave the scene in a hurry. Would the US, UK and France then actually deploy their air power to enforce a no-fly zone for years as the US did in Iraq? Early elections and the installation of a popular government in Libya are also unlikely in the near future. There could well be a UN peace keeping operation for which troops will be needed. India and Brazil could then be seen as more impartial candidates. The decision to abstain may thus not be such a bad bargain by those in favour of sending Indian troops.
Not only the US but other countries are also currently showing extreme reluctance for any kind of armed intervention in this or any part of the globe. India’s views on the issue are well known, but now that it is on the UNSC for two years and aspires to become a permanent member, it would have to get used to the idea of taking a firm stand on matters; simply ducking the issue may not be an option. India will have to explain to its citizens that the world is changing, that the country has to be seen as more decisive, and that citing compulsions of coalition politics will not behove an aspirational power.