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July 26, 2006
'Not now, not ever.'

--Arundhati Ghose, India's ambassador to the United Nations Committee on Disarmament, while vetoing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, in Geneva, August 1996.

Ghose, who grew up in Bombay and studied at the Cathedral and John Connon school, graduated from Lady Brabourne College in Calcutta and went on to Vishwabharati, Santiniketan, before joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1963.

In a freewheeling interview with Deputy Managing Editor Ramananda Sengupta at New Delhi's [Images] India International Centre, Ghose, one of India's most distinguished diplomats, outlined her reservations about the new-found India-US friendship, discussed India's position on Iran, and explained why the Non-Aligned Movement is still relevant. The first of a two-part interview:

How do you view the current friendship between India and the US, particularly the nuclear deal?

There are some dangers in the current situation, but I don't believe it has to do with the nuclear deal. Because our negotiators are so paranoid -- the way it is being negotiated, whether it is the 123 agreement, (the term for a peaceful nuclear cooperation pact with a foreign country under the conditions outlined in Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act) or the safeguards, which have always been negotiated between the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and our Department of Atomic Energy -- our negotiators are hyper paranoid. They look at every comma. They look at not just what it means, but what it might mean, not just today but down the road, how this will affect, for example, our space programme.

So I am not worried about the nuclear deal, we've got good negotiators. We've got top notch people negotiating the nittie gritties. And it appears that the Americans are so keen on this deal, for their own reasons, that we are getting much more out it than if this had been a multilateral negotiation.

So the nuclear issue is not worrying me. But the foreign policy issue does. For instance, coming up on the horizon is Myanmar. Not that we like Myanmar, you know the background. But if we can deal with Pakistan, we can deal with Myanmar. And it is important for us because of the northeast issue. But the Americans, whose position is different, have already managed to get the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)to back them, saying take Myanmar out. I think we would be wrong if we went along with that. Those are the kind of issues I am worried about.

Also Iran?

The Iran issue has been much misunderstood. We have no reason to back Iran. Everybody knows about Iran's relations with A Q Khan. What was Khan selling them? Not civilian technology. According to information I have --the government will have much more --Khan has proliferated to people like the Taliban [Images]. I am not saying they actually transferred anything, but there were contacts between Pakistani nuclear scientists and emissaries of the Taliban. Now in this situation, it is in our security interests to stop Iran where it is.

When it suits us, we will work with Iran. Just like the United States. Like in Afghanistan, where we have common interests, so we work with them. But on the nuclear issue, we can never agree. Never.

What about our energy needs from Iran?

Energy security has been blown out of proportion, in the sense of our dependence on Iran. It's not that great. When the king of Saudi Arabia came here, we asked the question directly to their foreign minister: Why are you here? Why, when, we have been asking you for so many years, you declined, and now suddenly the king turns up, with all this huge delegation? And he said 'we want to assure India -- and China -- that we are reliable long-term suppliers of oil.'

If you look at in perspective, yes there is a certain amount -- I think we get less than seven per cent -- from Iran. It is not so great, but all right if Iran hadn't been a problem country. It is a problem country. Why should we waste so much of money?

For instance, we didn't waste money in Nigeria when the mistress of some minister, who actually had the deal, offered it to us. The government said we are not going to put money in there. Similarly, here there is a risk. Why put in money there? Let them sort their problems out.

Our interest should be that it does not escalate. Because we are a neighbour. And there could be issues inside our own country. The communal implications are huge.

But the vote on Iran, on a specific nuclear issue, was completely in line with what India has always said. Whether it was in the American interest or not is secondary. So it was a bit of A Q Khan, a bit of perhaps saying that we'd like to go with our new friends, the Americans.

And that is where the danger comes in. Yes, when you are not affecting your sovereignty, or your interests, you go along with a friendly country. They are a superpower, and we are not. But we've got our own issues and problems. I am worried that they will pull us down without our recognising it. The nuclear deal, we are negotiating. On the foreign policy side, you will get pulled in.

ASEAN could pressure us on Myanmar. It will not be the US asking us. We have got our Look East policy and our burgeoning relations with ASEAN, What if they ask us? This is the kind of thing that I am worried about.

They are the single superpower. They are a hegemonic power. They are friendly to us today. But there is no doubt that they would like all their friends to agree with them. We are not in the habit of doing that.

We said no to sending troops to Iraq...

That's right, we are not in the habit of doing that. And when we do that, our publicity should be strong. Like here we have a disagreement, and here we have agreed. We agree on the knowledge initiative, and we are working well on that. On the scientific we are working very well, even on the defence side. And we are quite happy with that.

But we are not agreed on the political side. So it's political power. And India's got this -- for whatever reason, whatever you want to call it -- a colonial background, because she's just plain ornery -- she does not like being told what to do.

I read something recently about the prime minister skipping the UN General Assembly in order to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Is some message being sent out?

Yes, I saw that. What that item said was that he would have to be away for a very long time. The message is not very clear in my mind. He went to the G-8.(Group of Eight industrialised nations) That message is clear.

India wants to be a part of the decision making in that group. The friendship of this government with the Bush administration is very obvious. So what message to whom?

Domestically, saying we don't always support the US?

But he could have done both. (then prime minister P V) Narasimha Rao did both. He went to Cartagena and then to the UN.

The Americans are asking what we have in common with the Non Aligned Movement now.

Independence. The ex-colonial thing. The Americans are too far away from their colonial memories. They are 250 years away. We are 50 or 60 years away. So they cannot understand what it means to be independent. What do have we in common?

The fact that we are developing. We have problems of developing countries. Look across, whether they are social, whether they are economic, we have the same problems. It is not against anybody. I would say today it not even against imperialism or anything. But it is a kind of assertion, that in a world governed by the big powers, we would like to make our own way.

That is what we have in common. We can do it, but by the skin of our teeth. Most of the others can't do it at all.

South Africa [Images] is very keen on NAM. Why? Apart from Singapore, why are Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, so keen on NAM? Don't think of NAM as Third World countries, all in drought, in a dreadful straits. You are talking about countries which are doing pretty well. Why does the US want to be an observer in NAM?

Egypt [Images] is not doing well, but the entire Maghreb (the region of the continent of Africa north of the Sahara desert and west of the Nile -- including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and to a lesser extent Libya and Mauritania)-- Mashrek (the region of Arabic-speaking countries to the east of Egypt, including a large area in the Middle East between the Mediterranean Sea and Iran.), Southern Africa. They are all NAM members.

Why haven't we had a NAM summit in India for such a long time?

We had it here last in 1981. But why go so far? You participate, but the implications of hosting it is that then you've got to guide it. Our view of NAM -- which was a battle we lost to the Yugoslavs and the others, well, we didn't lose, but it was a compromise --was that NAM cannot be a group, it is a philosophy: non-alignment.

And we didn't like the term NAM. They had wanted a secretariat, and they had wanted a organisation. We said it is not a bloc. We cannot be a party to a bloc.

What you have today is a compromise. Neither is it an organization, nor is it an individual county's policy.

The OAU, they have this thing -- it's no longer the OAU, it's African Union -- that whoever becomes independent in Africa automatically becomes a member of NAM. Independence is a big thing. Our stand was don't consolidate it into a club or an organisation.

The Yugoslavs wanted that. Because it gave them a sense of security. We felt that it was wrong. We could not belong to a club like that, basically because of the differences. But the policies were in common. So we continued on our own line.

Our PM going to NAM, rather than the UN, perhaps it's a media thing. That he is not going to the UN, full stop. He is going to NAM. They need not necessarily be linked. I don't know. The UN starts only in the second Tuesday of September, so from then on, all of September he is gone.

Let's go back to the time when you were negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. What has happened to the CTBT now? Is it dead in the water?

It's dead in the water because of the US. It's important to remember that it wasn't the Bush administration which turned it down. (The United States) Congress turned it down. I can't see them joining the CTBT anytime soon. That does not mean that they would not want us to join it. But they can't be so hypocritical as to say that. So then they make this big play about the moratorium. Because they can't talk about the CTBT when they themselves are not going to sign it.

The test ban treaty, basically, if you look at Article One, it only bans explosive testing. It does not ban other forms of testing. And that was one of the points we raised. That if they want to make it a comprehensive test ban, then all forms of testing must go. In other words, you stop all tests. Then you would move towards disarmament.

But that is not how they saw it. What they saw it was as a means of controlling the threshold countries on what they call the learning curve. While they could continue technologically, they could share data with the other P5 countries. So the have/have nots, the NPT syndrome, recurred there. So they should have known that we wouldn't go with it. The Americans did. The British kept saying no, no, we will sign it.

What led them to that conclusion?

It is not only we who suffer from a colonial memory. And they listened to the Pakistanis, and the Pakistanis said NAM would put pressure on India to sign. This what they told us. If they had not forced us, maybe we would have considered it at some other stage, with some reservations -- you can't have reservations -- we could have put in own riders. There's Article 11 about withdrawal from the CTBT in the national interest. If anything happens we can pull out.

And they had also put in that unlike the NPT safeguards, or the Chemical Weapons Convention, the body of appeal was the Security Council. We didn't like that, because you are the guys who are most likely to violate this. We said, okay, if all five will give us in writing that you will never exercise the veto on yourself.

Each one of them said nothing doing. There were some very good elements in it (the CTBT). But the basic problem is that it is not a disarmament treaty, it is purely a control treaty.

Part 2 of the interview: 'For us the big thing is China'

The India-US nuclear tango | The nuclear chats

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