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The Rediff Interview/K Subrahmanyam
'No American can treat India like a pet'
October 11, 2005
K Subrahmanyam is India's leading strategic thinker and the most vocal supporter of the country's weapons programme. The man who wanted India to make bombs is now, surprisingly, ready to cap its weapons programme. He says his change of heart comes from the fact that 'we have made bombs.'
A brilliant and controversialáthinker, his mind is ever ready to change and dynamic enough to embrace new ideas that even young minds in the field of diplomacy and national security would find too hot to handle. Subrahmanyam wants India to take America's full-fledged help in developing faster and becoming a big power. His changed stance vis-Ó-vis America and India's strategic interests are strongly resented by many of his contemporaries and Left thinkers, but opposition makes the old gentleman come up with even more forceful arguments.
Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt caught up with K Subrahmanyam for an exclusive interview.
Do you approve of the way India voted against Iran in the recent International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting?
India didn't sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We stayed out of it and were telling people we had the nuclear option to exercise. Iran, on the other hand, maintained that it needed all these things for fuel. If you need it for fuel, NPT permits it and you can notify the IAEA and go ahead. But this is not what was done. This clandestine operation went on for 16 years. The IAEA was dealing with Iran. After it found out about the clandestine programme, three years passed. Iran is not very co-operative. Now, the question arises -- how do you deal with them? Do you allow them to become one more nuclear power in this part of the world? Will Iran stop there? Already, there is information available that Khan may have given nuclear technology to a fourth Middle-East country [Saudi Arabia].
Therefore, Germany and France took the initiative in this case. They are not US stooges. They opposed the US at their own cost on the issue of Iraq. The IAEA is also not a stooge of America because it refused to endorse President George Bush's thesis that Iraq had clandestine weapons. Germany and France want to apply pressure on Iran to co-operate with the IAEA and come out with the rest of the data so all doubts can be eliminated. This is being done. If we had voted against the resolution, it would have meant we were more or less conniving with the deeds of Dr Khan of Pakistan.
For all other members, Pakistan's involvement in the Iran issue is not as important as it is for us. For us, it's an issue of national security. Secondly, it is said that Iran is a friend. Okay. This is why we are telling Iran to be flexible in talks with the European Union, which is offering a good deal. As a friendly cover, we are advising Iran to be pragmatic. Unfortunately, and somewhat foolishly, the Iranians are trying to bring America into the issue by projecting it as a US-versus-Iran confrontation. As if it is a Muslim-versus-non-Muslim confrontation or South-versus-North divide. In that case, why didn't a single Muslim country vote against the resolution? Even Pakistan merely abstained. Russia and China didn't vote against it either. They merely abstained, proving that Iran is isolated. The Iranians should therefore be sober. They didn't get our vote, but they didn't get support from other Muslim countries either.
But that's an old Arab-versus-Iran issue, about anti-Shia forces at work.
These arguments do not take away the fact that our vote was a quid-pro-quo to strengthen India's nuclear deal with America.
So it is not a principled decision but rather a pragmatic stand on India's part.
Iranians were part of the conference which extended and legitimised nuclear weapons. To say that we are going to abide by international regulations and rules is quid-pro-quo -- of course it is. To be a decent law-abiding citizen is also considered quid-pro-quo. Who says it is not?
Many critics also argue that our nuclear diplomacy can adversely affect our energy diplomacy.
It is repeatedly said that Iranians are a different breed altogether.
All this discussion about the effect on our energy needs is because many people think the confrontation with Iran will continue forever. They believe Iran will have a grudge against us. Do we have a grudge against Iran because they voted against India over NPT issues or the CTBT?
We are an energy deficit country. Iran is not.
People like B Raman have criticized the Indian decision, giving a number of reasons. You know him well; have you taken note of the thrust of his arguments?
It is alleged that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is coming under the influence of the US.
This kind of charge was made essentially against Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.
Are you sure India hasn't played a game where US interests are directly benefited?
There is a way to deal with such an issue. The US has a huge image problem in Islamic countries. India has its own standing.
But, do you remember how Iran helped India when the resolution came up in the UN Human Rights Commission over Kashmir?
There are many complex issues involved, like domestic constituencies. One cannot deny or ignore community living and community affinity. India has the second largest Shia community; don't you think that could be one of the reasons for consideration, if not the major consideration?
I am not going to say that domestic Muslims should not be sympathetic to Iran. But I am saying I have to think of the overall national interest. I (being a Tamilian) cannot say that just because there are Tamils in Singapore or Malaysia -- where Tamil is a national languages and isn't in India -- I should be with the Tamilians there. I am not in favour of the LTTE in Sri Lanka because I think of India.
How do you see the sharp criticism in India?
But unlike the Kashmir issue, there is a lack of national consensus.
When Nehru voted against Hungarian Russians, Jayaprakash Narayan and others condemned it. There was tremendous condemnation all over India. When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, Indian Parliament passed a unanimous resolution. We kept quiet in the UN. In 1971, the whole world was against us on the issue of Bangladesh. In the UN, our brethren of the Non-Aligned Movement voted against us. When Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam and Pol Pot was thrown out, all Mohammedan brothers supported the US in supporting Pol Pot. What happened to Non-Alignment solidarity then? On the issue of Afghanistan, we didn't go with NAM, we thought we shouldn't antagonize the Soviet Union. We haven't always had a consensus in this country.
Do you think the prime minister hasáthe electoral mandate to make such amazing changes in Indian policies? Do you think the Congress has the political mandate to do what it has been doing over the last year?
His critics are still thinking of the Cold War era. They say America should be resisted. They say the US is weak now and can't handle a power like Iraq. And yet, Marxist leader Sitaram Yechuri is talking without thinking that the US wants to take the Iran issue to the Security Council and they want to start a war. Did the Security Council endorse America in the Iraq war?
You are arguing that Singh is a good politician, which is not the general view about him.
What next? Will the Bharatiya Janata Party and Left pressure work?
What if Iran doesn't budge?
Again, is it okay for India to be bracketed along with America?
Why is this so? Many of us want US investments, go there, study there, and yet do not like the idea of India being closer to America.
If we had gone with America over Afghanistan, imagine how much Talibisation of this country would have taken place. As the world changes, we should change too. It is stupid of us if we don't. I always say that you can have a cat as a pet, or a dog, but certainly not an elephant! No American can treat India like a pet.
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