Monday, March 24
The Nation, March 20, 2003
The Nation elicited comment on reaction to the war against Iraq from all corners of the globe.
What follows are capsule reports from countries both directly and indirectly involved in the conflict: Vietnam Russia, the Philippines , Jordan , Israel , China , Nigeria , Great Britain, Egypt, India, the United States, France, Spain, Cuba and Germany.
Praful Bidwai, New Delhi: When war erupted, millions of Indians switched channels from the Cricket World Cup, although their team was then winning the spectacular once-in-four-years event. This was eloquent testimony to Iraq's importance for them. The war horrifies and revolts ordinary Indians: Iraqis are Third World people much like themselves, with similar tastes in music and food, who share a history of fighting colonialism, and who suffered sanctions after the 1991 war which Indians opposed.
There is a growing rift between the Indian government's official policy and popular sentiment. For a month, the rightwing Hindu government has ducked parlimentary debate on Iraq--a fierce opposition demand. It has wriggled between saying no war without Security Council authorization, and (timidly) opposing "regime change" through external force. Occasionally, Prime Minister Vajpayee piously says there should be no war anywhere.
What shocks and angers Indians is their governemnt's statements which place blame for war not the US, but on the Security Council, for not "harmonizing" its positions on Iraq. Once a major part of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has travelled a long distance at the governmental level. The public hasn't. It instinctively abhors hints of empire and double standards on weapons of mass destruction.
Over 85 percent of Indians polled oppose a UN-unauthorized war on Iraq. On February 15, March 15 and March 20, there were spirited (and underreported) protests in over Indian 100 cities, and a very impressive all-women demonstration. And antiwar campaigns are growing.
The war's backlash will be strong in India's neighborhood--especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, where fundamentalists will try to harness anti-US sentiments. Unless secular antiwar opposition grows, fundamentalists could hijack the issue. That will mean more trouble in this strife-torn, and now nuclear, region.
Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political analyst, a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and a peace activist.