Part I: Uncle Sam's devious ways
India does have its options and supporters within the Washington powerbroker community.
PIO and NRIs do have the ability to influence the US Congress -- especially through the India Caucus. These influential lawmakers, when pushed by their Indian American constituencies, will ameliorate the impact of some of these potential sanctions, or perhaps delay some of these proposed arms sales.
But the damage of intended and unintended consequences is already done.
What has India already conceded?
India has already agreed to certain mechanisms and constraints under US pressure, that many of us may not be too happy with. This starter list includes:
- Export checks attaché from the US to be stationed in India: 'Washington has demanded that New Delhi set up a credible end-use verification mechanism to ensure that exported items are used for their licensed purposes. One method would involve stationing in the US embassy here a commercial attaché from Washington who would make periodic checks in consultations with Indian authorities.'
- Separate out our civilian and military space programs: 'India, albeit reluctantly, agreed to "sanitize" ISRO from DRDO that the US lifted sanctions and allowed for space cooperation' -- Times of India
Washington, however, only sees this as a first step in increasing its demands -- it now wants to put in spot checks without any prior permission -- in essence, complete control over the running of our nuclear and space institutions.
The response from India, so far, has been encouraging. The external affairs ministry said the issue will require further discussions with Washington, as New Delhi is not willing to allow US inspectors to have a 'walk-in' permit to visit any Indian facility, including nuclear power facilities.
Unfortunately, while India can hold out on hard issues that affect voter approval, such as sending troops to Iraq -- on other issues, it may not be as steadfast, as we're beginning to see in sundry 'land for peace' offers to Pakistan, our 1996 Ganges water sharing treaty with Bangladesh, and so on.
One sure sign is that our ICBM range missile tests are no where on the horizon.
Strategic analyst Bharat Karnad presents a potentially darker scenario, which is hard to confirm.
'The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to a "strategic restraint regime" in South Asia, which helped to, in effect, one, cap the Indian nuclear force and weapons programme at the technological level achieved by the 1998 tests; two, restrict the Indian strategic force to a small, ineffective, deterrent featuring 20 kiloton "crackers"; three, compound its vulnerability by getting New Delhi to agree to a "de-alerted, de-mated" nuclear posture; and four, ensure that India did not develop intercontinental ballistic missiles able to reach the US. India, it turns out, conspired in its own strategic reduction to the size of a Pakistan,' he says.
I do not expect our leaders to cave in beyond a certain point.
This is far more difficult now than it was during the Simla talks of 1972, for example -- media and public awareness are at a different level today. But vigilance is critical.
Having said that, the Times headline 'Prove our scientists had N-links: India to US', sure makes it seem that the UPA has the right mindset.
Perhaps our MEA would be well served in paying heed to a man who has gone through some of the toughest negotiations with the US officialdom: 'Jaswant Singh accused the Indian government of "hurrying" to conclude the Next Steps to Strategic Partnership, jointly initiated by Vajpayee and President George W Bush for cooperation in civil space and nuclear technology, high technology trade and missile defence. Signing the NSSP without the US lifting sanctions on all Indian entities would "result in much greater difficulties for India," he said.'
Singh cautioned the government that the US bureaucracy is the 'champion bureaucracy in the world' and that it would always be 'three steps ahead' of the Indian bureaucracy in 'obfuscating' the issues. 'The government must clarify why it is allowing the US to link India with Iran's nuclear programme when it (the US) knows very well the origin (hint! hint!) of its programme,' he said.' -- 123bharath.com
To understand the impact of these not-so-subtle sanctions threats -- let us take a look at China's behaviour over the same period of time.
Over the last few weeks China is working aggressively to improve relations with India (in ways that may not be always apparent) as in: public support for UNSC seat -- even if they know that this is not going to happen; some claims not to update Pakistan's Hatf missile guidance software -- even if they actually just delay such updates; and a much awaited visit by state councilor and former Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan -- a known hardliner on India -- who at least did not try to insult India through the media, with random threats of sanctions.
Consider one result of this -- while the Indian Express reports...'In an indication of the growing confidence levels between India and China, Army Headquarters has plans to go in for a restructuring of its six commands and has proposed conversion of the Central Command into a purely logistics formation.'
At the same time as this rise of confidence vis-à-vis China, sify.com and Washington Times are putting forth dark reports, such as 'more sanctions could be levied against India by the US.'
A difference in tone?
China has its reasons for doing some of this, including the fact, that as recent events have shown, China's dominance in Pakistan is being challenged and if Pakistan or India were to provide listening posts to the US military, the consequences for China could be severe.
I am not saying China can be trusted or is a better partner than the US. But the US approach of insulting Indian sensitivities is just plain stupid -- mentioning the A Q Khan network and Indian proliferation in juxtaposition is inane.
Directly providing billions of dollars of sophisticated arms to Pakistan -- arms which have the explicit intended for killing Indians is also not the brightest move. After all, as far as I know, the Indian government is not openly funding and arming people who are trying to kill US citizens.
So what has the US State Department achieved with all this?
Well, Afghanistan is still primarily run by warlords, Pakistan is far less stable than in 2001, Iraq has been effectively destabilised for decades to come and now, plans seem to be afoot to send Iran along the same path.
The result -- the entire region of Central Asian states, Middle-East and parts of South Asia are becoming far more volatile. This instability is helping push gas prices through the roof here in the US. Then there is the minor issue of global support.
The 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide and 1.2 billion odd Chinese have no love lost for the US -- but now, thanks to repeated public insults to a country of 1 billion people -- the deep distrust for US policies is being rejuvenated within India.
Alienating yet another 1 billion people is perhaps not the best way to move forward even for a superpower. But who will explain this to the power-hungry neo-cons, who have a completely different definition of global reality. Perhaps, Ron Suskind of The New York Times describes the mind-set in the Bush White House the best:
'In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency. The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'
'I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do''.'
So, what should India do?
I'll be the first person to admit that economic partnerships between India and the US have a tremendous future and so do people-to-people interactions. Most Indians would like to see these kinds of interactions grow and I'm no different.
But strategic issues are a completely different matter.
As I have long said -- strategically, US and India have diametrically differing interests in the region -- India needs to explicitly recognise this in all its planning. US actions, if looked at in their totality are at least suspect, if not worse.
Just consider the list that I'd created elsewhere:
'Two days after Pakistani terrorists killed 25 Indians in Nadimarg, US declared a $1 billion loan forgiveness for Pakistan. Implication -- We don't mind you killing the Indians, as long as you give us a few Al Qaeda activists once in a while.
Days after the perhaps the worst attack on our democracy -- the December 13 attacks on Parliament, the US started arm-twisting India not to retaliate in any form. Implication -- Terrorism against India and Indians is NOT punishable, but terrorism against Americans certainly is.
From all sources, that I have in the ruling circles at Delhi, the US has been pushing India very hard to give concessions to Pakistan on Kashmir, as a reward for stopping terrorism. Implication -- It is OK for the US to not negotiate with terrorists, let alone reward them, but India must reward the terrorists.
A complete free pass to airlift some of the worst terrorists from Kunduz, who had been fully surrounded by the Northern Alliance. Implication -- These same terrorists now get to kill again, almost surely in India.
In spite of fool-proof evidence of Pakistani complicity in the 1993 Bombay blasts, the US surprisingly 'lost' the evidence that was sent to them. Implication -- Pakistani terrorism did not have to be criticized in public, yet again.
Short term, the US wants to break up the India-Iran connection -- and longer term, it wants to restrict and defang India's strategic assets -- so, as usual hardball tactics are being used.
Unfortunately, the US State Department hardly ever recognizes the consequences of its approach.
For example -- by supporting Musharraf -- the US has in many ways made Pakistan a less viable State -- and by consistently playing hardball with India over strategic issues -- there are few major parties left in India that can openly be pro-US anymore.
The complete lack of sensitivity in its actions vis-à-vis India, has resulted in bringing together a surprising uniformity of views on this issue, within India.
A left-wing columnist, who sits exactly on the opposite side of the fence from me on almost all issues, writes in the Navhind Times about India-US relations: 'They (India and US) can certainly improve their economic and political relations. But 'strategic partnership' is an illusion.' That is the key issue -- commentators on both the right and the left, saying exactly the same things about the US, even though for different reasons. Slowly, such distrust for US policies is spreading.
In the end, irrespective of assorted State Department stunts -- India must weigh its options carefully; it must:
Buy time. Since, reality is that many countries including Russia and China have significant defense and trade relationships with Iran. Also, the EU (including the UK) are very squeamish about supporting US designs on Iran -- things will come to a head sooner rather than later. India just has to play along for a few more months.
Stop being a wimp State. At times the appearance of being unpredictably dangerous really helps -- so, the next time Bangladeshi supported ULFA terrorists blow up some Indian children to smithereens, in stead of beating our chests, take massive direct action against the terrorists. Believe me, a little more visible readiness to use force or simply testing an ICBM or two will change how the other powers interact with India -- perception matters
Grow Internal strength. Key markers of internal strength are -- the size of the economy, the size of Indian internal markets and the size/nature of the Indian defense forces. To put it mildly, nations with trillion dollar economies do not get messed with -- similarly, if we go back to spending 3.5% of our GDP on defense, as we used to in 1987-1988 -- most arms races near our borders (except with China) will lose their meaning.
India has to realise that any sign of accommodation on strategic issues is considered a weakness and is going to be exploited by countries like the US, China, UK and other smaller powers -- that is just an accepted fact in International politics.
On strategic issues, we must not be accommodating -- to see how far submission on strategic sovereignty can go, we just have to look to our west.
Whether it is an issue of testing an ICBM or deciding on mating up our warheads with our missiles or even taking action against Pakistani and Bangladeshi terrorists -- clear-headed action, as opposed to accommodation is almost always a better option in warding off future unwarranted pressure tactics, like we're being assaulted with by the US, right now.
Remember, China, when it had a smaller economy than our current GDP, say in the early nineties, did not have such indignities thrust on it -- changing the perception of India is a key step in reversing such predatory tactics.