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Posted Online on Friday, 3 March 2006 23:55 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsThe Indo-US nuclear deal - an analysis

By Zafarul-Islam Khan

The Milli Gazette Online

2 March 2006

New Delhi: "Welcomed the successful completion of discussions on India's separation plan and looked forward to the full implementation of the commitments in the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement on nuclear cooperation" - these three short lines buried inside the joint communiqué issued here this afternoon after the one-on-one meeting between President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ended the over four decades-old American sanctions slapped on India after its first nuclear tests in 1974.

Today's agreement also means that the hurdles faced by India in procuring nuclear technology and fuel have been removed for good. Moreover, all other current restrictions on India's access to America's high and dual technologies will also be withdrawn as a result. Delhi will be able to do much more business with the US in fields barred to Indians hitherto, with the expectation that the volume of trade between the two countries will double within the next two years from the current US$ 24 billion.

Today's agreement is a win-win situation from the Indian point of view. India will be able to build more nuclear power plants. At present it has 15 functional plants with an additional seven under construction. India stuck to it guns during the course of tough negotiations during the last few months. It did not agree to open all its nuclear facilities to international inspection. Instead, it ingeniously divided its facilities into "civilian" and "military" ones and agreed to open only the former to international inspection. 

According to currently available information, India will place 14 out of its 22 plants under the civilian list. Delhi thinks that the nuclear energy is the answer to its ever-growing needs for power. With this deal India will not have to depend totally on foreign oil and gas for its increasing energy needs.

From the American point of view, this deal - a culmination of the Bush-Singh understanding in Washington last July - was not easy and it will be quite hard for President Bush to sell it to the Congress. To start with, India is not a signatory to the NPT. India built its nuclear programme secretly in defiance of international pressures and carried out two nuclear tests (1974 and 1998). 

In a way the American acceptance of the Indian nuclear position is a reward to India for its consistent defiance and refusal to join the NPT. In contrast, the US is adamant to deny nuclear power to Iran which is not only a signatory to the NPT but has also signed an additional protocol which provides more transparency to Tehran's nuclear activities.

To offer this concession, the US had strong and pressing reasons. India for most of the time since independence in 1947 has been at loggerheads with Washington. During Indira Gandhi's time there was open hostility towards the US and India was considered a Soviet ally. All this suddenly changed after 9-11. America started to look at New Delhi as an important potential ally. The idea was warmly welcomed in Delhi then ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP which wanted to use the US clout to stop Pakistan from supporting militancy in Kashmir. The relationship quickly flourished and by late 2002 we heard both Indian and American officials talk of "strategic partnership". A recent Pentagon report describes India as a "key strategic partner". 

US wants to engage India in its global schemes. India is already a military partner of the US. Since 2001 it has carried out 35 joint military exercises at sea, land and air, both in the US and in India. Indian Navy ships are already providing escort and security facilities to the American military ships passing through the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean on their way to and from the Pacific through the Straits of Malacca in Southeast Asia. Despite its willingness, a popular outcry did not allow the BJP-led Indian government to send Indian troops to Iraq to help out the American occupation forces.

The only rationale behind the ongoing joint military drills is that there are certain plans for joint Indo-American military action in future. The US wants to use India as a bulwark in Asia against the Chinese dragon. This kind of cooperation will not go down well with Asia's emerging giant as well as with many popular and political forces within India. Delhi has also successfully sold to the US the idea that a democratic India is a great ally against the Islamic terrorism America is fighting at present.

The withdrawal of sanctions against Delhi will help India in many ways. It will open the gates for Indo-US cooperation in lucrative space research and scientific cooperation in many fields which are currently barred to Indians. The US has refused to offer a similar deal to Pakistan. India, Washington says, has demonstrated that it is a responsible nuclear power. Pakistan, on the other hand, is accused of helping nuclear proliferation.

In a way today's decision is a tectonic shift in India's foreign policy. After this deal, India is no longer a non-aligned power. It will no longer champion for Third World countries. The Indian elite has clearly decided to throw its lot with the Americans. New India wants to emerge as a global power and enjoy the fruits that go with that status. It is no longer concerned with ethics and morality in matters of policy.

The Indian government is implementing this u-turn despite strong opposition from many popular and political quarters, including many of its own allies in the ruling United Popular Alliance (UPA). The current deal is being denounced here by many quarters as a sell out and an acceptance of Uncle Sam's supremacy. But the ruling elite is determined to see through this major change of course in India's foreign policy hoping to latch on the sole superpower. It remains to be seen if a beleaguered President Bush too will be able to muster enough political support to sell this deal to the US Congress.



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