Nuclear Agreement With US Rips India Apart
By Pierre Prakkash
Thursday 27 September 2007
Communists threaten to stop supporting the New Delhi government.
Presented by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as one of the biggest successes of his term, the cooperation agreement on civilian nuclear matters signed at the end of July with the United States could paradoxically cost his government its life. Just as he had finished finalizing the terms of this historic text, concluded after two years of bitter negotiations with Washington, the Congress Party-led government is confronted with a new obstacle: its Communist allies. Fiercely anti-American, the Indian far left sees this bilateral accord as an outrage against national sovereignty, liable to make India a client of American hegemony. The Congress Party, which leads the governmental coalition, cannot maintain itself in power without the Communists' external support.
The crisis is such that Manmohan Singh, usually very reserved, flew off the handle last month, challenging his allies to bring down his government. In the end, he was forced to give in by creating a multiparty committee charged with examining the "consequences" of the agreement on India's foreign policy.
Beyond the domestic political crisis, India's geopolitical repositioning on the international scene is at stake. Former leader of the nonaligned nations, but close to Moscow during the Cold War, in recent years New Delhi has proceeded to develop a strategic rapprochement with Washington, of which the civilian nuclear energy agreement constituted the capstone
. That text, which allows for the possibility of selling technology and nuclear fuel to New Delhi, constitutes a complete reversal of the last thirty years of American policy. In effect, India, which, unlike Iran, never ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), was forbidden all assistance in that domain ever since it proceeded to its first nuclear tests in 1974.
In July 2005, George W. Bush nonetheless committed to making an "exception," with the new Indian ally being suddenly considered a "responsible nuclear power." Even more surprising, New Delhi obtained the ability to keep its military installations well away from all future inspections. In full Iranian crisis over proliferation, the affair logically raised a series of outcries in the United States from numerous members of Congress - from Democrats as well as Republicans - who saw it as a dangerous precedent. But the Bush administration was determined to see this agreement come to fruition. "I want this deal," the American president ordered his team during his visit to New Delhi in March 2006.
Why this new American willfulness? For commercial reasons - potential sales of equipment for future Indian nuclear power stations, and the possibility of reducing pressure on oil prices, with India importing three-quarters of its energy resources - but also for geo-political reasons. The Bush administration seems to want to play the Indian democracy card to limit China's growing influence in Asia. That wager is far from being won, since, after four decades of tumultuous relations, the elephant and the dragon are just now in the process of reconciliation.
However that may be, India, always in quest of international recognition, is delighted to see itself suddenly propelled to the rank of "strategic partner" to the world's biggest power. All the more so, as, during the Cold War, the United States' traditional ally in the region was none other than India's sworn enemy, Pakistan. Now, although Washington cannot for the moment do without Islamabad in its war against terrorism, it is clearly favoring its relations with New Delhi. The proof: when Islamabad in its turn demanded assistance with civilian nuclear power, it was politely, but firmly, rebuffed.
But if the rapprochement with Washington is undeniable, it does not, all the same, mean that New Delhi is taking orders from the White House; far from it. Thus, in the last few years, in spite of intense pressures, New Delhi has refused to send troops to Iraq, to give up a pipeline planned with Iran, or to accommodate American interests in the framework of the negotiations underway at the World Trade Organization (WTO). As for the famous nuclear agreement, it does not prevent India from pursuing its military program or proceeding to new tests.
Hurry Up and Wait
Before that, the government must still negotiate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) - that is, the club of 45 acknowledged civilian nuclear powers. Then the text will be presented before the American Congress once again. Knowing that the United States is entering an election period, the government must hurry up. Yet, for now, all negotiations are suspended on the results of a committee formed with the Communists, with no fixed schedule - a formula that could lead straight to early elections.
Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.