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'There is a cap on India's strategic programme'

When he talks, India's policymakers listen. That's Brajesh Mishra, former national security advisor and principal secretary to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In intelligence circles, among bureaucrats and his peer group, Mishra is considered the best brain where India's national security concerns are concerned. When he aired his doubts regarding the Indo-US Joint Statement of July 18, 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself spoke to him to allay his concerns. After the March 2 declaration of understanding between India and the United States regarding separation of India's civil and military nuclear establishments, Mishra has again criticized the deal. In an exclusive interview with rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt, hediscussed in detail his reservations regarding the nuclear deal.

After March 2, in the US, nuclear proliferation experts have criticized the deal aggressively,, leading most Indians to think there must be something very good for India in this deal. So why are you against it?

I have two problems with the separation agreement. One, it is absurd for people to say that there is no cap on India's strategic program. .

There is a cap. India is asked to put 50 percent of un-safeguardedreactors under safeguards, so 50 percent of fissile material available for other purposes including the weapons program is no longer available. So for people to say there is no cap is absurd.

After the July 18 agreement there was a lot of government inspired propaganda in this country that now India is accepted as a nuclear weapons state. Now, it's clear that we are not being accepted as one. In fact, Under Secretary Nicholas Burns made it very clear and he tried to make the distinction in India being a nuclear weapons power but not a nuclear weapons state.

Obviously safeguards on your reactors are going to be in perpetuity. You are not a nuclear weapons state. Because the US and others don't have safeguards in perpetuity. The US can keep one reactor today under safeguards, take it out from it and replace another one. We are not allowed to do that. So this propaganda, which is inspired by the government that now there is no discrimination against India and now we are no longer a pariah in the nuclear field and we are not in a doghouse and all that, is not correct.

We have still not been recognized as a nuclear weapons state by the US or others in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

But to get something, you have to give something. How does India get out of the regime of sanctions? How does India get nuclear fuel?

Fine. But then, don't keep on saying that this will not affect our strategic program, our isolation has ended! There is still discrimination. There will be an impact on the strategic program. I am not saying that you don't compromise; certainly you need the uranium for your reactors. Obviously you have to do that. But then, don't try to mislead people.

A source in the ministry of external affairs told me that your own plan offered to put 69 per cent of India's nuclear energy capacity under safeguards while this government has offered 65 per cent only.

That is all bunkum! The offer that was put up by us and which was not responded to by the US administration was to put a couple of our existing reactors under safeguards and all future reactors under safeguards. Future didn't mean those reactors already under construction but we meant those which are being planned. We could not have agreed to put the fast breeder reactors which were under construction under safeguards. The spin given by some government circles is disinformation. They should defend this deal on its merits.

So, you are not against the basic idea of separating nuclear energy establishments, right?

I am not against the basic idea of getting international cooperation for our civil nuclear program. I think it is necessary.

Dr M R Srinivasan, member, Atomic Energy Commission and former secretary of Department of Atomic Energy and a distinguished scientist, told us he is satisfied with the deal and it will not cap the military capability of India.

Let them come and argue with me. I'll ask them, give me an answer to this: If 50 percent of your un-safeguarded reactors are now going under safeguard then that [fissile] material is not available to you. Then, why do you say there is no cap?

Unless they tell me that we have enough [weapons].

In the picture: former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra

Also See: President Bush in India

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