Deal on Heels

Posted in India | 15-Aug-07 | Author: Muhammad Aslam Khan

US President George W.Bush (L) chats with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

“We raced from threat to threat to threat…There was not a system in place to say, you have got to go back and do this and this and this…The moral of the story is, if you had taken those measures systematically over the course of time…you might have had a better chance of succeeding”, thus lamented George Tenet, Director CIA about nuclear proliferation, on 24 March 2004.

Indo-US nuclear deal’s blue print was cut when US President gave his vision about strategic partnership with India in 2005. The colossal shift in US foreign policy was to bear a litmus-test sort of such a mechanism that George W. Bush ardently needed to compensate for his reverses he faced on other foreign policy fronts as a sequel to his ‘go alone’ syndrome. Broad parameters, of the deal initially reaching the media, were to allow India to develop its nuclear weapons deterrence capability, segregate Indian civil and military nuclear installations before recognizing it, by implication, as the sixth member of the ‘nuclear club’. After placing civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, inundate India with whatever technological and fissile material support it needed to build additional reactors. Thus, the deal is a worthwhile bonanza to reap, as Indian nuclear status would also receive much needed sustenance, legitimacy and enormous boost to its power projection. The historic agreement was signed later in March 2006. Both the countries leadership sounded upbeat with scant regard to several issues, which were to sprout sharply in the wake of geo-strategic climate, crystallizing through the likely nuke deal.

Nuclear accord, though approved by the US Congress in principle, had to go further through nerve-testing US legal filter. Thus, in the process a number of compliance standards were reportedly strapped on the deal that kept scaring the experts on both sides of the dialogue table. These thorny issues are difficult to circumvent and in fact strike at the roots of the Indian military capability to acquire the role among leading powers in the international arena. One of the provisions, reportedly stipulated in the bill, was to “Achieve at the earliest possible date of the conclusion and implementation of treaty, banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons”. The clause if accepted by India shall render its nuclear weapons deterrence expansion redundant. The proposed bill also demanded of India to join US in its efforts to isolate Iran, with sanctions if necessary to interdict her WMDs development. Will India yield to such clauses in the face of its Opposition’s reservations about the deal, which feels that Indian right to take sovereign decisions would stand compromised? The latest indications are that pitfalls have been circumvented, thus making the ‘deal’ more flexible when both the powers have not budged from respective principled stand. It makes it collapsible also in the face of a contingency that it might face if Democrats come up and opt to take different view, not about the basics but about the failure to achieve ‘deal’ transparency in the global context.

Even if the powerful Indian and American pro-deal lobbyists, by a magic-wand-touch ability, have overcome the frictions that they have claimed already, for symbolizing strategic partnership with India, US chose the deal, which makes it cantankerous emblem. India surrounded by unfriendly if not hostile powers on all sides, emerges as a dangerous choice from South Asia for letting loose floodgates of most sophisticated technology and fissile material to saturate its already potent nuclear base. Two nuclear powers, China and Pakistan in the neighborhood are bound to react covertly or mutely if geo-strategic expediencies have silenced them for the time being. The deal will accentuate the tipping tendency of the ‘balance of power’ scale to Indian favor. The scenario becomes frightening even more when the World recalls, not only the history of active conflicts among them but also that the Subcontinent missed a nuclear conflagration by a whisker at the time of Kargil crisis. Kashmir issue, still lurking as an ominous dispute between India and Pakistan, reinforces Pakistan’s position if it takes counter diplomacy or measures to offset the impact of the deal. In all high profile studies, the dispute emerges as the one having potentials to spark a nuclear duel. Therefore unsettled, as it is likely to remain, giving additional nuclear muscles to India, stamped with legitimacy of the nuclear club is a measure beyond propriety and prevalent universal trend. Pakistani overtures to acquire several nuclear reactors from China was a counter move to convince the world including its old ally, US that in this region the worst was in the offing i.e. unbridled race for the nuclear reactors, the structures that threaten humanity by mere location—remember Chernobyl. Besides, US shift to bolster strategic partnership with India at this juncture will harden Pakistan and Chinese stance on other world issues or at least further coalesce them mutually even at the risk of defiance to US interests. The nuclear deal rhetoric, recent proclamations by US Presidential candidates to bomb Muslim holy cities and the threat to extend NATO operations into Pakistani territories have given perfect ground to Opposition leaders for lynching President Musharraf who is already beleaguered by violent uprising. While many may interpret that such US bashing of Pakistan indirectly could be a disguised move to coerce him to abandon dual-office status, the President also stands at the perfect pivot to conduct a counter maneuver that might not be supportive of American interests. However, any ‘macho’ move under the obtaining geo-political environments by Pakistan would be fraught with dangerous ramifications.

In the collective perception also, US offer to India is a strange paradox when nuclear experts are hotly pursuing evolution of a nuclear security strategy for universal compliance. High on the agenda is the need to make Non-Proliferation Treaty more stringent, inviolable and preempting the scenario of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of non-state elements.

US may be best advised to heed to Carnegie Endowment syndicate study of March 2005 that claims, “The final report reflects a much deeper understanding of the vital interests that drive various governments non-proliferation policies—knowledge that is critical if the US is to develop a strategy that commands wide international support.” Recognition of ground realities by the US President, coming at the earliest would be a welcome proposition. US commitment on the contrary shall force it to react, ‘from threat to threat to threat’ in a bid to bolster its own nuclear security regime and of its allies.

The author is a retired BrigGen from Pakistan Army with a PhD degree.

Dr. M. Aslam Khan Niazi is member of the WSN International Advisory Board.