Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Feb 10, 2006
Bush visit to India For a new strategic partnership
Left party leaders claim that India compromised on pursuing an "independent" foreign policy by voting to report Iran, which has clandestinely obtained enrichment equipment and designs for nuclear weapons from Pakistan, to the United Nations Security Council.
Are they suggesting that their comrades in Beijing and the Russians, who voted similarly, also do not follow an "independent" foreign policy?
And if they now claim that Beijing and Moscow are toadies of Washington, why then did they demand a fortnight ago that we should follow the lead set by Russia and China on Iran's nuclear programme?
More importantly, if they want to demonstrate against President Bush while he is in India, will they hold similar demonstrations should China's Hu Jintao visit India, because of China's supply of nuclear weapons designs, missiles, fighter aircraft, tanks and naval frigates to Pakistan? And will they demonstrate against Gen Pervez Musharraf for sponsoring terrorism across India?
More than any of his predecessors, Mr Bush has made a genuine personal effort to build strong relations with India. After Ms Condoleezza Rice replaced Gen Colin Powell in the State Department, the Bush Administration has made a conscious effort to widen ties with India, with a clear recognition that New Delhi has an important role to play in guaranteeing strategic stability in the Indian Ocean Region and in promoting a viable balance of power in Asia.
Washington has endorsed and complemented New Delhi's approach in dealing with growing religious extremism in Bangladesh, the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka, and the misguided erosion of democratic freedom by King Gyanendra in Nepal.
There is also now a growing acknowledgement in Washington that the Taliban is receiving support on Pakistani soil.
The Pakistani Prime Minister, Mr Shaukat Aziz, was told in no uncertain terms when he was in Washington that the US reserved the right to intrude into Pakistani territory to hit at the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mr Aziz was also told that Pakistan will not receive any American cooperation in civilian nuclear energy.
This message was reinforced by stinging editorials in The New York Times and Washington Post.
Despite these developments, it would be naïve to presume that the US will not adopt an intrusive approach on issues such as Kashmir.
Thus, while we should avoid making discussions with Mr Bush Pakistan-centric, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, should tell his American guests that any division of Kashmir on religious, sectarian or linguistic lines is unacceptable and that we will not countenance any change of borders.
India can, however, discuss Gen Musharraf's proposal for "self-governance" in Kashmir.
Pakistan will, however, first have to give Pakinstan-Occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas at least the same measure of "self-governance" that the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir now enjoys.
Like in J&K, Pakistani forces in POK and the Northern Areas should be placed under "Unified Commands" headed by the elected and empowered Chief Ministers of these two regions. Any talk of "demilitarisation," however, is premature because of continuing cross-border terrorism.
Mr Bush is visiting India at a time when there are signs of American war weariness in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Like the US, India has an interest in the stability and progress in the States of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council, where over three-and-a-half million Indians reside and from where we obtain two-thirds of our oil supplies.
The prospects for our cooperation in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar have increased after the visit of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to India.
The recent elections in Iraq have produced fissures between Shias and Sunnis. Can this spread into Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, thereby disturbing the stability in the oil-rich region?
How can India and the US cooperate to promote stability in these key countries and raise the level of Indian involvement and investment in sectors such as oil, natural gas, petrochemicals and fertilisers in these friendly Arab countries?
These are important issues on which India and the US need to exchange ideas and perceptions.
There should also be a similar exchange of views on our efforts for economic integration with the States of East and South-East Asia, and the measures we can take for getting China constructively involved in promoting a viable balance of power in Asia.
Relations with Myanmar are, however, going to be an area where the differences with the US have to be imaginatively addressed.
The July 18 agreement signed by Mr Bush and Dr Manmohan Singh is going to remain an important focus of attention. The agreement involves a separation of India's peaceful and military nuclear facilities, with the former coming under IAEA safeguards.
Dr Raja Ramanna was the first to advocate such a proposal in exchange for an end to nuclear sanctions against India. The Bush Administration is, however, trying to dictate how the separation should be carried out to appease the "non-proliferation fundamentalists" in the US.
At the same time, sections of our nuclear establishment are asserting that both our deterrent capabilities and the R&D programme will be affected by any separation, contradicting what Dr Ramanna had said earlier. The Manmohan Singh Government has handled this issue clumsily.
Will our nuclear deterrent capabilities be affected by the separation, as some claim? Will our R&D effort, especially on fast breeder reactors, be similarly affected by placing them under IAEA safeguards? Surely the people of India are entitled to answers to these questions.
Finally, while the separation of our civilian and military nuclear facilities should be achieved transparently, it is the responsibility of the Bush Administration to persuade American legislators about what India can realistically accept.
It is time this bottomline was unambiguously spelt out by us, after our own "nuclear autarkists" tell us how they intend dealing with limitations arising from shortages of indigenous uranium ore.
It should be evident that, for now, and in the foreseeable future, the US is going to remain the pre-eminent power in the world.
With the booming exports of IT-enabled services to the US, and possibilities for greater cooperation in high technology transfers and Defence equipment increasing, the prospects for a wider partnership covering virtually every sphere of the economy appear to be bright.
But our American friends must realise that a partnership has little substance or meaning if it is marked by continuing sanctions imposed by one party against another.
Can India place faith in the reliability of the US as a supplier of spare parts for Defence equipment if the relationship is clouded by memories of how the Tarapur Agreement for supply of nuclear fuel was unilaterally abrogated by the latter in 1978?
Given the positive approach that Mr Bush himself has adopted towards India, it would be a pity if the opportunities now available for a wider strategic partnership are missed out.
But the visit itself would have little impact if there is no progress on the nuclear deal or in the absence of a categorical American statement of support to our candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)
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