With Libya, is India confused or just too clever by half?

March 21, 2011

India abstained last week from a U.N. vote on the no-fly zone in Libya that also authorised military action, but since then it has been more vocal in its rejection of airstrikes, joining China and Russia in criticising the coalition of Western powers and the Arab league and its actions against the Libyan government.

One of three Air Force Global Strike Command B-2 Spirit bombers returns to home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Kenny Holston/U.S. Air Force photo/Handout“We regret the air strikes that are taking place in Libya. We are viewing ongoing violence with grave concern,” Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters on Monday, in comments carried by NDTV television channel. It echoed an official comment on Sunday.

India’s declarations signal that New Delhi will not step in line with the West despite its growing ties with the United States and Europe — highlighted by a string of visits last year, including President Barack Obama’s and the leaders of France and the United Kingdom.

This is not new. India for years has gone against U.S. interests in a string of geo-political issues, including Myanmar. But it has counted on the fact that it is now economically too important to be sidelined by any Western power due to any criticism of the West.

India, especially the ruling Congress party, still has deep roots in the Non-Aligned Movement. And domestically, it plays well with voters often skeptical of Western intentions.

Why then did India abstain in the U.N. vote? While China’s veto would have stopped the no-fly zone given Beijing’s status as a permanent member of the Security Council, India’s would have been a symbolic move.

China did not want to be seen blocking what is perceived by many as being a humanitarian mission. India would have just been a noted protest at the United Nations.

So again, there is a disparity between what India votes and what it says. Is India still unclear about where it stands globally? Or has it played a clever political game — a game that it has played for decades as a “non-aligned” power — that will pan out if the military airstrikes end in a stalemate?


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I do not go with the stand India has taken. When Gaddafi is killing people demanding freedom from a despotic ruler, we cannot stand by and see people being massacred. It is actually an act of cowardice on our part. If we could not participate, at least we should support the action by the west. We should wake up and rethink on our non aligned principle.

Posted by tikku | Report as abusive

How typical of Alistair, a westerner to judge India’s decisions only in the scope of being pro or anti America/ Nato.
India simply follows the rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. India has done what it thinks is right. Attack on Libya is a shameless interference in the internal matter of a country. Just because the West do not like Gadaffi and do not like the way the war between Gadaffi and rebels was going on, doesn’t give them the right to attack a country. Gadaffi is not attacking another country. He did not start this war, the rebels did. He is just trying to get control of his own country. And whats wrong in that?
The truth is that Gadaffi stopped oil supplies to france and Europe and their was a real crisis. Gadaffi further declared that all future Oil contracts will be given to Oil companies of Russia/ China/ India. And within 48 hours of this declaration, French Airplanes were bombing Libya.

Posted by SunilKumar | Report as abusive

India is with west for their humanitarian efforts.But west bombing a nation , it will be ridiculous to assume that only bad guys are being killed. First the citizen of Libya faced tyranny of Qaddafi and now west is bombing them. Should we brace ourselves for another Iraq and Afghanistan ?Who says that citizen not supporting democracy should be killed ? If west is so much concern about democracy then why is it blind for China ?

Posted by Raghvesh | Report as abusive

Very convenient for the author to paint just one side of the story!
Of course India did right. This is the internal affair of Libya.
If the U.S, U.K, France, Canada, Italy, Norway, Spain and the GCC countries who proposed and are conducting this action for the goodness of their hearts why are they not doing the same in Bahrain or Yemen? Or is it because these countries are conveniently allied with these countries – so some civilians getting killed in Bahrain and Yemen be damned??!!!
Why didnt they do this in Iran? Probably worried that they will get a pasting from them?
What about Mogadishu? The African Union had actually begged for a No Fly Zone – Guess what the status is now?
There is such a long list of countries where such treatment is being meted out to their citizens: So if these countries truly want to do good then they should be equivocal in their actions.
India stayed away because it is not AS MORALLY CORRUPT as these countries.

Posted by I_Chanakya | Report as abusive

Politicians of India are just spineless fool creatures. They don’t know what they’re doing and what should they do in these circumstances. They more worry about their constituencies. If they say something against Arab countries then a particular community would angry. Otherwise how else a biggest democratic country on earth like India is denying the basic right of Libyan public by supporting a tyrants. And the tyrant unlike Saddam Hussain (whom too India supported) was against India at everywhere.

Posted by Straight-Talk | Report as abusive

India should disassociate itself from either side in the Libyan crisis. Either Gadaffi’s rule or the Tomahawk based Western humanitarian aid. Both need to be either condemned if we are strong or ignored if we are worried about the west.

Posted by Vijay1 | Report as abusive

Putin is right colonial powers Britan, France, and US are at it again. Their usual thirst to test new weapons and itichiness to kill people that they enjoy so much are at work. France is so bold for they know that US will save them again in case they get in trouble . Sarkozy the little Nepolian wants to punish somebody, anybody, instead of solving problems in his own country.

Posted by iraha | Report as abusive

i am an anti congress pro hindu. i dont like congress most of the time. but this time i say good for you congress party. dont be a das dasi of america. do not support killing good muslim or bad muslim. we dont want war in middle east. we respect middle eastern people for giving us job so we can prove we are not islam haters . when islam has problem we are with islam to help islam. when west has probelm we are with west for help. but now it seems west is killing islam no matter good or bad. we dont like such killings. we like to talk. if west dont like to follow us today . we hope west will follow us tommorow. jay bharath matha , jai ram

Posted by jaycdp | Report as abusive

I think India has been clever here by being non-comittal but not going against the tide with the West. And now they are trying to score points with the Arab League as being “fair” minded compared to the Western powers. Further, the audacity of France to intervene in its former colony militarily is outrageous considering they left Libya without any semblance of democratic institutions or a culture of openness to fall back upon and thus gave the world Gaddafi.
Why is it that for all the lofty ideals the Europeans preach against America in Iraq, their first instinct here is to drop bombs in the “defense” of democracy ? It is quite hypocritical on their part and quite arrogant as well to act like Zeus on Mt.Olympus swatting the troublesome little heathen who doesn’t lay down and die because some rebels want him to.

Posted by IAF101 | Report as abusive

People demonstrate in streets against current regime in keeping with sweeping cries for reform across democratically repressed region. Regime has a violent reaction. Violent reaction incites people to return violence and attempt overthrow. Attempt is thwarted and military goes on a vengeful shooting spree.

UN and world leaders said: Don’t fly military missions against civilians/populated areas and stop shelling & shooting everybody.

At the 11th hour Gaddafi’s spokesman said: we have a cease fire.

Except the Gaddafi army did not keep this word even as they were spoken, they kept killing…and kept pressing into the remaining pockets of resistance.

The UN voted for a no-fly zone.

The world said stop, Gaddafi said he would hunt down and kill every last rebel supporter, and the military kept shooting. The world said stop, and Gaddafi said if you shoot at me, I will bring terror to your streets.

So, in spite of being told what would happen if the shooting didn’t stop, the Libyan army pressed, and their leader continued to defy.

Why? Was it simple ego? Could he not have demonstrated some measure of restraint and halted for a diplomatic solution?


Any surprise the militaries that would enforce a no-fly edict would shoot every threat in sight to enforce and secure the edict?

By this blog string I know there are egos out there that sympathize with any form of sovereignty, be it despotic or theocratic totalitarianism, or otherwise, but there was an alternative and an actual cease fire would have saved lives and military hardware.

Had Gaddafi stopped shooting when he had the rebels running before him as was ordered by the UN, what then? Peace negotiations, exodus of rebel supporters from the country and a renewed stronghold for Gaddafi, no?

Posted by NobleKin | Report as abusive

Almost all Indian leaders are not leaders in real sense. They have either got these plum seats by purchasing votes or inherited by family influences. They mostly play into bureaucratic hands for decisions or actions but claim all the credits for it if that goes well. Hence they are not original personalities with leadership qualities. They fail to take right stand, right action, at right time, in a right manner as they are spineless to carry along the masses with them or face the consequences even for very petty matters not to speak of such an important international issue like air attacks on Libya by western coalition forces. Neither confusion nor cleverness but lack of such talent is the basis!

Posted by Saini23 | Report as abusive

India has been a reluctant player in the international issues, especially in international interventions, due to Kashmir problem which I think is a weak stand. Kashmir issue is different from other conflicts as there is a strong judiciary and media to raise voices, unlike many autocratic and monarchs of Arab countries.

Libya is of a typical problem in Middle Eastern countries. Arab problem is they are submissive to white race and can be manipulated by fair skin.

Libya – UK is determined to protect its interests (oil companies) and a personally enmity to Gadaffi for Al Magahi case. They want to eliminate him. Also French and UK are looking for a breakaway from US control and domination in the world. They may use soft and useful targets like Libya to show case what they can do. Why can’t they intervene in Ivory Coast, Bahrain? B’cos nothing to gain and no way to refund the expenses!

India is fearful of many things. It lacks a robust foreign policy response mechanism and shy of talking and acting. As a FOLLOWER of global developments I don’t understand why this country can take up a principled and bold stand. A growing might come from showing some strength and ability to follow the taken stand.

Thinking that its immigrant worker will suffer the country always stay back, which I feel is cowardly. This makes its people look feable, weak and vulnerable to other races. As a billions country with so much to offer to the world, a few can resist our potential – at least in the Asian neighbourhood. It would be worth keeping a strong navy stand by for the Middle Eastern waters to flex some charm. It gives confidence to the people and project our image – an image of can do attitude than a follower. Time has come to out of the shell India.

Posted by Appus | Report as abusive

“China did not want to be seen blocking what is perceived by many as being a humanitarian mission. India would have just been a noted protest at the United Nations.”

It seems to me the author is saying that India should actually have voted against the proposal. Unlike China’s it would have been noted as a protest. If so, this is indeed rich stuff. If merely abstaining is causing so much heart burn just imagine how apoplectic the same people would have been had it actually voted against.Maybe then they would be saying, “but why didnt it just abstain instead of coming in direct conflict with Western whims and fancies?” – good copy – good journalism!

“India for years has gone against U.S. interests in a string of geo-political issues, including Myanmar. But it has counted on the fact that it is now economically too important to be sidelined by any Western power due to any criticism of the West.”

Would the same writer try to recount how often the US has gone against Indian interests?

US thinkers, analysts and foreign policy mandarins rightly insist that US foreign policy must and should be based on US interests and US interests alone – no quarrel with that. However, they also feel that it is owed to them and go on to demand, that their friends and partners and everyone else also frame their own foreign policies to suit US interests. Good bye partnerships.

If India now presumes that its economic clout gives it some voice, why should that be considered against anyone else’s interests? Would the Western powers have dared to use force in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan etc if they did not think that their own military and economic power gave them that right? Sauce for the goose…………

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Where angels fear to tread, fools rush in.
US should stop striking at windmills.It is as usual helping Islamic fundamentalists to gain the upper hand.India should desist from aiding such naive misadventures.

Posted by eduscan | Report as abusive

@@Straight-Talk, They know what their doing in India, as the world economy was going under, Indian economy was stable or going up….So do your research…

Posted by Tkdcorp | Report as abusive

India will want the same package as the Chinese.

Posted by Maloof | Report as abusive

Knowingly or unknowingly the West is stoking the fires of a what is essentially a Shia uprising.

Posted by eduscan | Report as abusive