India abstained on UNSCR 1973 authorizing the use of force to protect Libyans from Qaddafi’s revenge. In New Delhi, they were quick to note that the states in “decline” whose economies are struggling (United States, France and Britain) seem so eager for another war in the Islamic world, while the booming “rising” states like India, Turkey and China are much more reluctant warriors. They connect the fiscal dots.
The Indians are puzzled that some in the West who had embraced Qaddafi less than a hundred days ago are now so shocked by his cruelty. Qaddafi did not change in 2011. Some former Indian diplomats are quick to suggest that the Libyan war shows America’s “unreliability” and a tendency to over react to the last news broadcast. Who are the rebels in Benghazi, they ask, that are now your allies? Why do you rush to help them, and not the shia protesters in Manama?
As one Indian observer put it, “the U.S. is both promiscuous and flighty” with its relationships.
Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, who rules here behind the curtains, is probably sympathetic to these arguments given her strong attraction to her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi’s view of America. Prime Minister Singh, the standard bearer for the American alliance, is in growing trouble over several scandals. India is watching the winter of Arab revolutions turn to a spring of foreign interventions closely. The Saudi intervention in Bahrain has happened with little global criticism outside Iran. Now a larger intervention has begun in Libya with little clarity about the expected endgame. Is the mission to topple Qaddafi or to partition Libya?
The youth bulge that has driven Arabs to revolution is also bulging in India, but Indians are not worried, since they are already the world’s largest democracy. For India, as always, Pakistan is a more immediate worry. The Indians see their neighbor as facing its most “existential” crisis ever with a real threat of “meltdown.” They see their enemy, Lashkar e Tayyiba, growing in power inside Pakistan with more and more cells in Oman, the UAE, Bangladesh, Nepal, England and inside India itself. There is no faith that the renewed engagement with Islamabad will change the Pakistani army’s love of jihadi terrorists. The murders of two prominent moderates this year by al Qaeda in Pakistan herald the end of Pakistan’s center, many fear.
The next regime, many expect, will be even more sympathetic to jihad or too intimidated to fight the extremists. Libya seems, to many Indians, another dangerous diversion (like Iraq) which will distract global resources from Pakistan and Afghanistan to many Indians. A war in Libya will strain NATO defense budgets and war weary publics quickly. In India they fear they have seen this movie play out before, with deadly results in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
To add to India’s confusion over American thinking of global strategy, Sarah Palin is in New Delhi this weekend attacking President Obama for “dithering” on Libya. Indians wanted to hear some clarity about Pakistan from the former Vice Presidential candidate but were disappointed. But she was a big stir in New Delhi where she is assumed to be running for Obama’s job.