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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2730

Despite failed Tharoor campaign UN considers India "important"

From R.C. Rajamani – Political Editor, Asian Tribune

India may have failed in its bid to get its nominee Shashi Tharoor elected as the next United Nations secretary general, but its influence with the comity of nations is formidable enough to make the world body turn to New Delhi for help to defuse crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region. In fact, India is rated high among the current competitors for permanent seats in an expanded Security Council. A founder-member of the world body, India’s voice on decolonization, disarmament, peace and development has always received attentive ears and due importance from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru.

With the sectarian flare-up in the Darfur fast reaching a flashpoint, the United Nations is coming under some moral pressure - flowing from its mandate - to send its peace keeping troops to stop the "massacre" of the native tribal population called Furs. Khartoum and the pro-government Arab militias are accused of war crimes against the region's black African population, although the UN has stopped short of calling it genocide. But the hitch is that it is still "an internal conflict" and does not come under the relevant UN chapter that empowers the world body to send its peace keeping troops. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government is also strongly opposed to the presence of UN forces on its soil.

It is in this context that a UN official had recently suggested that India with its traditional good relations with Sudan could persuade its leadership to allow the UN troops into Darfur. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has appealed to New Delhi to help the world body more actively to avoid "meltdown" in Darfur. It is being pointed out that India has an impressive record of sending its forces for UN peace keeping mission. There have been numerous examples of India deploying its forces for UN peace keeping missions such as Lebanon, Congo and many others. India, which has the fourth largest army in the world, has participated in many UN peacekeeping operations, including the Balkans and Middle East. Over 62,000 Indian troops have participated in 36 peacekeeping operations worldwide. Over 100 Indian soldiers and officers have sacrificed their lives while serving in UN peacekeeping operations.

But the difficulty with regard to Darfur is that under the UN charter the government of Sudan must agree to the deployment of UN peace troops.

The sources say the Indian government understood the spirit behind the request made by the UN official, albeit only through the media. The sources also suggested that the situation in Sudan may not have gathered "the critical mass" necessitating sending a UN peace keeping force. New Delhi, however, is "closely watching the developing situation."

The conflict began in the arid and impoverished region early in 2003 after a rebel group began attacking government targets, saying the region was being neglected by Khartoum. The rebels say the government is oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. Darfur, which means land of the Fur, has faced many years of tension over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs, and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa communities. There are two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), although the peace talks were complicated by splits in both groups, some along ethnic lines. Some 200,000 have also sought safety in neighbouring Chad, but many of these are camped along a 600km stretch of the border and remain vulnerable to attacks from Sudan.

In the whole Darfur crisis, the issue of Sudan's oil is becoming a key factor. Independent sources point out that the western nations, including the USA, is not free from having "vested interests" in Darfur because of oil. These countries are playing their own strategic and economic games in the troubled region. For China, Sudan has become an important oil provider and its oil is crucial to the fast growing Asian economic giant. An estimated six percent of China's oil imports are from Sudan. India too has a strong economic presence in Sudan. The Indian oil firm Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has a 25 percent stake in the Greater Nile Oil Project in Sudan and has interests in two exploration blocks. In February 2005 ONGC was awarded a contract to build a 1.2-billion-dollar oil refinery in Sudan, an African country bordering the Red Sea. Sudan has also mandated ONGC to build a 200-million-dollar multi-product export pipeline from the Khartoum refinery to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, about 740 kilometers (460 miles) away.

While India is naturally disappointed at the exit of Shashi Tharoor from the contest for the post of the UN Secretary General, New Delhi seems convinced that its campaign was worth its while. After all, the Indian nominee lost to a powerful opponent, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon, who seems all set to succeed Kofi Annan in the New Year. For one thing, the exercise helped India gauge its clout with the international community as a fast emerging economic and political power. Tharoor, 50, came a consistent close second in four straw polls. The current UN Under Secretary General for Public Information, managed 10 positive votes, three negatives and two no opinions as against Ban’s 14 positive votes, including from all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), and one no opinion. Indian officials insist that Tharoor’s showing can hardly be described as "India’s lack of clout". In fact, it showed "an improvement" in its clout among the comity of nations as Tharoor, a diplomat put up a commendable fight against an opponent, politically formidable.

As an experienced UN watcher in the Indian capital points out, after all, UN is essentially a political body and "play of power politics" plays a major role in the election of its secretary general and "India has only lost the election and not esteem."

- Asian Tribune -

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