Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Mountbatten Withdrawal Plan For Iraq

By Cernig

Here's an interesting analogy:
India is far from a perfect analogy with Iraq, but in 1947 it offered some remarkably similar problems. Its politics had become lethally communalised - not Shia v Sunni, but Muslim v Hindu and Sikh. London attempted to preserve a one-nation India, but failed; by early 1947 there was still no form of Indian government to which power could be transferred. British troops in India, not counting British officers in the Indian Army, had dwindled from a prewar figure of 60,000 to no more than 12,000 two years after the second world war ended, and all of them were very anxious to come home. When Attlee's Labour government took office in 1945, withdrawal from India was no longer a matter of if, but when.

In Downing Street on the last day of 1946, a cabinet meeting pondered the wisdom of announcing a precise date when, to quote from the record, "we had no assurance that there would by then be a representative authority to whom we could hand over power." Still, the cabinet felt that a precise date might knock a few heads together and that withdrawal could be dressed up so as not to "appear to be forced upon us by our weakness" but instead the logical conclusion of policies pursued by successive British governments.

...By 1947, Indian politicians on all sides had begun to see the idea of Pakistan as inevitable, though neither Britain nor the US was particularly in favour of it. What may not have been inevitable was the slaughter that accompanied Pakistan's creation and for which Mountbatten's haste is sometimes held to blame; according to the historian Andrew Roberts, he should have been court-martialled when he got back to London. Somewhere between 200,000 and 2 million people died.

But slowness may only have postponed and aggravated the carnage. Hindu-Muslim killings were already a fact of Indian life - in 1946, 4,000 died in the Calcutta riots - and worsening every day. Mountbatten had few British troops to call on, and probably even fewer willing to risk their lives in the cause of communal harmony. And most politicians wanted the British out as soon as possible. Nehru had said, "I would rather have every village in India go up in flames than keep a single British soldier in India a moment longer than necessary." The one indubitable benefit, from a strictly British point of view, is that very few British soldiers died between the declaration of India's independence and the last troopship home - seven officers is one statistic.

So far in Iraq, 159 British troops have died and 3,611 Americans (current rates are about 100 a month). Iraq's own parliament is bitterly and hopelessly divided, as far from reconciliation as Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was from joining hands with Nehru. Iraq has no Gandhi to heal and inspire. Perhaps what Gordon Brown needs is that unlikely thing, a touch of the Mountbattens. He could set a date. How about tomorrow? Tomorrow would be good.
While an analogy using India as a predictor of events in Iraq is only partway there, it's certainly closer to the mark than the South Korean dream that Bush has.

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