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Bush visit: Expect business, not fireworks
March 01, 2006
The momentum of the coming together of New Delhi and Washington, DC is quite great. And, it has substance.
India has an agenda for having closer relations with the United States, but our agenda is not as complex and rich as the American agenda for India.
They have a lot more security concerns and they are involved in a lot of regions. So, they have to make difficult choices and maintain a balance in prioritising when, how and to what extent they should emphasise on any region or nation.
Countries that enter a partnership with the US must have an idea of American actions and things that the Americans need to balance.
India must know how far the US will go in arming Pakistan. We can't just say it has nothing to do with our bilateral relations with the US -- it certainly does.
Friction arises only when two countries come closer. It is a tectonic shift between the two countries. When the Indian and the US plates come closer, some quakes are expected.
US and Them
From the Indian point of view, it appears that the US is very tolerant and very indulgent in addressing irregularities that emanate from Pakistani soil.
Pakistan's support to the infrastructure of terrorism, financing the most horrible exploits all over the world, giving shelter to Al Qaeda and all kinds of foreign terrorists -- these are our concerns, but the Americans have been tolerant.
As America inches closer to us, it has to take care of the Pakistanis' sensitivities -- and their apprehension that they are being dumped.
Let us face it, we may have stop seeing the three countries involved from the prism of a zero-sum game.
But Pakistan has not given it up. The Pakistanis do hyphenate India and Pakistan when they talk to the US. Why shouldn't they? It suits them more than us.
If I had been handling Pakistani diplomacy, I would have done the same. It suits Pakistan to hang onto our coattails because by doing that they also want to get through their problems. They are doing a good job of keeping India and Pakistan hyphenated vis-à-vis the US.
It is being said that in the emerging 'balance of power' arrangement in the world, India, China, Europe, Japan, Russia and the US will be the powerful nations.
I wonder how America is going to balance itself. Will it be ready to be merely just one of the powers of the world?
In spite of these concerns, I am positive about India-US ties. Our focus should be on mutual cooperation that is advantageous to both.
The US needs highly trained and bright Indians and our young guys need America to exploit their potential.
The Nuclear Tango
It doesn't require great expertise to say that if the India-US nuclear agreement doesn't materialise while Bush is in India, it will affect the relationship.
If the Bush administration's attempt to change US laws to help India is defeated in the US Congress, it will be a setback. It will create distrust in the minds of Indians about America.
But it will be a temporary setback. I have feeling that the US Congress will approve the proposal sent by Team Bush.
Most other countries are of the view that the US is going too far by opting to reconsider India's need for nuclear fuel. The US is being seen as the power pushing India onto the world stage and say things that can enhance India's image as a powerful nation.
The nuclear deal cannot be finalised till American law is amended. Expectations of finality on the nuclear deal emerging out of the Bush visit are not correct.
What is possible is an agreement for the action plan prepared by India on how to proceed in the deal in a phased and credible manner.
I have explained to George Perkovich and other non-proliferation champions that I (India) am not in the business of satisfying you guys. I have to satisfy myself. I am going to be a responsible future member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
India wants to be sincere in its commitment to non-proliferation, so why should India produce a plan fast? The Government of India doesn't believe in pulling fast ones.
Scientists Versus Politicians?
The nuclear deal is a technical issue. But fact is that the Indian scientific community has made it clear they would like to carry on with their research programme without intrusive inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Not because they want to hide something, but because they want independence.
I find one thing funny. I have great admiration for Indian scientists, but the scientist's job is to pursue science and knowledge. I don't think it is the scientist's business to say how many weapons India should have and so on.
The scientists have the right to say that we need X amount to have a credible minimum deterrent -- for which they are commissioned. But when the scientific community dictates agreement and all that, then I would say they are going too far.
Another thing we should note is that eminent nuclear scientists in the US, Europe and elsewhere have always opposed nuclear weapons programmes. Scientists have felt that producing destructive weapons of such ferocity is not their proper goal.
I am sure Indian scientists are also disturbed with the development having violent dimensions.
But the fact remains that Indian scientists don't want constrains in their scientific quest. I am with them all the way. But beyond that point, it is for political leaders -- not scientists -- to decide on how many bombs India needs.
No Spin, Please
No government can sell this event too well.
The India-US relationship is a fast-changing one. Negotiations are on about the nuclear deal, and you don't know where you will end up.
When two governments start changing basic policy, then people will naturally be surprised. Particularly, those who have developed entrenched positions like the non-proliferation Ayatollahs in Washington or super-patriots on the Indian side.
There are people who really believe that Indians can do everything on their own and if a foreigner lands in New Delhi it is interference.
In such a situation, in democracies, don't expect the government to be a terrific stage manager. Also think of coalition politics, which is at its most difficult moment in India.
The Communist parties today are in a vantage position with more than 60 Lok Sabha seats. They will have to be heard. In such a situation, the government can't come out strongly in favour of India-US ties to orchestrate public opinion.
When Clinton came to India there was euphoria because it was a new beginning. That honeymoon is over. Now we are addressing hard issues.
I also believe that in the end whoever is leading the government has to follow the dictum that a man has to do what he has to do.
I think our prime minister has believes he has to do it because it is in the people's interest. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is not making a big deal out of it.
He is not making thunderous speeches on India-US ties but he is committed to a rational path -- that relations with the US are in the interest of the people of India. He is not going to deviate from it.
What I expect is that there will be progress in agricultural cooperation, anti-HIV-AIDS efforts, healthcare, possible energy cooperation in space and in the knowledge-based industries. It will lead to the institutionalisation of cooperative arrangements in various fields.
Man To Man
The rest of the world notices such summits when the media gets attracted. And the media's attention is caught only when two leaders have some chemistry between them.
Bill Clinton was more form than substance but that form was very important because that visit heralded a new beginning. India got huge publicity.
We have to remember that when the US president visits a foreign country, the American people are more or less united behind him. So, the way we treat him is important.
He is the symbol of Americans here. Those who oppose him are not even impressing Bush's opponents.
In the US, differences in local politics are pursued vigorously but that stops at America's shores. When the American president is dealing with another power they are normally behind him and the people of America want him to be successful.
This time, both the leaders are very business-like. You won't get to see either of them dancing with village belles.
I have a feeling that the rest of the world will note after the Bush visit that India and the US have come together to transact some serious business.
Naresh Chandra, the former Indian ambassador to the US who is leading the CII-Aspen India-US dialogue, spoke to Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt.