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Home > India > News > Report

Let the nuclear deal go through: Brajesh Mishra

February 27, 2008 13:29 IST
Last Updated: February 28, 2008 12:42 IST

Brajesh Mishra
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At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find a lucid thinker on India's foreign policy, Brajesh Mishra, India's former National Security Advisor, is a treat to meet.

Mishra, who was against the India-US nuclear agreement, now tells Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt that the United Progressive Alliance government should go ahead and sign the deal. His current stance is at variance with his earlier views over the matter and the views of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which still opposes the deal.

He was linked to the BJP after his retirement from the Indian Foreign Service. Today, he stands alone in the saffron crowd owing to his support for the deal.

In an exclusive two-part interview, Panditji, as Mishra is known in his inner circle, lays out the nuances, in his inimitable style, on issues like the India-US civil nuclear deal and prospects of stability in Pakistan. The Prime Minister's Office will be pleased to read the way Mishra supports the deal using his unique blend of experience and wisdom.

How do you see the dynamics of the ongoing nuclear deal?

Well, some indications were given by the government on Tuesday (the President's speech to the Houses of Parliament mentioned it). Still, they want to pursue the nuclear deal despite the opposition from the Left and BJP. But we should not confine the assessment of Indo-US relations merely on the basis of the nuclear deal. Much more is happening.

In defence, agriculture and the economic fields much more is happening between the two countries. We should give more importance to that than merely to the nuclear deal. The visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is important.

India is now willing to acquire military hardware from the US. Earlier, there was hesitation from both sides. Today, it seems both countries are willing to talk about any and every item under the defence deal.

I would say, regardless, of the nuclear deal going through or not going through, the relations between the two countries are on an upswing and I think will dictate their course.

Is it like never before? Are we closest to the US right now?

Yes. Except for the brief period after the Chinese invasion of 1962 when there was some opening between India and the US. Although it was stalled after sometime, today we see the relationship developing very fast and in a positive direction.

US Ambassador David Mulford, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Senators Joseph Biden and John Kerry and others have once again been pressurising the government to take a decision on the nuclear deal. Where do you stand on the issue?

With regard to Senators Biden and Kerry, I presume they were asked questions by the media. They met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images]; they must have talked about many issues.

When they say the nuclear deal should be done by July it was in response to a question. Let us not say that they volunteered this information. If you ask a question, they are bound to answer.

I believe the senators did not talk only about the nuclear deal. There is a feeling in the US that it will be a letdown to the Bush administration if the deal is not finalised, as it will be a let down for Dr Singh. So, there is still some hope and some effort to put the deal through. I can't say if it will go through or not. It depends entirely on Indian domestic politics and nothing else.

Right now, what is your stand on the nuclear deal?

As I said two months ago, my main concern has been India's strategic nuclear programme. It came out in the open in 1998 and we pursued it.

The Congress, which was in the Opposition at that time, was not very enthusiastic about India's strategic programme. In fact, in 1998, they criticised the nuclear tests. Obviously, there was suspicion in my mind whether this government is pursuing the strategic programme that we had worked out.

The deal, as it was announced in July 2005, talked about a moratorium on Indian testing (nuclear capability) in a bilateral document between India and the US. Later, in the US Congress there was a discussion about a moratorium on fissile material production.

In March 2006, when President Bush came to India, a separation plan of India's civil and strategic facilities was announced. And, under the plan, 14 out of 21 nuclear reactors were put under safeguards. So, obviously there was suspicion that enough importance was not being given to the strategic programme.

I am not speaking on behalf of the BJP. Personally, I believe that 8% to 9% growth of the economy is very good for us, but if we do not have the bomb, it (the growth of the economy) is not enough. If you want to play a major role in world affairs, that is the key.

I raised this problem two months ago. A number of people from the government have spoken to me and they said to me that, 'We have been and are pursuing the strategic programme' for which the foundation was laid by the National Democratic Alliance. In the light of my concern for the strategic programme being taken into account I said it is okay; let this nuclear deal go through. It is fine if it goes through.

But I am not one of those who think that if the deal does not go through then Indo-US relations will be affected. No, that is not correct. We must never tag Indo-US relations to one item or with a single issue.

Let us presume the nuclear deal is signed, the Left parties object and turn this government into a minority. What is a diplomat's view of the deal after that? Will the deal backed by a minority government remain sustainable and tenable?

My view is that as per the Constitution, Parliament is not supposed to pronounce itself on these matters or cannot dictate the conduct on any policy matters.

First, whether the government is in a minority or not has to be established in a Constitutional way. Its continuance in office cannot be determined by the debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament. It has to be determined by a vote of confidence. Merely to say since a majority of Parliamentarians are against the deal does not turn the government into a minority government. That's my answer to your question.

But sir, the political weight of the government...

I don't want to talk about politics. That is something the government and Opposition has to decide.

But, is this fact not on the mind of the Americans who are pushing the deal? Can't they see that if the deal is signed there is a possibility that this government may turn into a lame duck government?

You yourself drew attention to the statements of visiting Senators like Biden and Kerry to me. They don't seem to be bothered about the fact that this government might lose the support of the Left parties.

What is your assessment? Will this government take the risk?

I can't make the assessment because that depends upon so many political factors, which are mostly domestic in character.

The Left parties and the BJP strongly oppose the nuclear deal. Will it not cast a shadow over the entire deal and on its implementation? It will remain highly contentious even after it is signed.

What you are talking about is the political argument. And, I don't want to get into the political argument. You raised the issue of the government turning into a minority. I answered that with a Constitutional point of view and not from a political point of view.

There are signs that the government is seriously toying with the idea of operationalising the deal. What will be the long-term impact?

If and when the deal goes through and when India gets an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group on cooperation between India and those 45-odd countries who are members of the NSG, it will be something very good for India.

I am not worried about 'isolation' of India. India needs some high technology and dual use technology items.

If we want our share of nuclear power to increase then we will need energy cooperation with members of the NSG. From that point of view, it will be very good if the nuclear deal goes through.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is in New Delhi. He is mainly talking about the potential of defence ties. How interlinked are issues like India's strategic relations, defence cooperation, nuclear deal and cooperation in Afghanistan?

As I was saying a few minutes ago, there is an overall improvement in India's relations with America. Not merely defence purchases, not merely defence cooperation, not merely the nuclear deal. If it goes through, there is even talk about more and more army and naval exercises and even about Afghanistan. I am sure they are talking about Iran and Iraq also.

So, this is the part of the 'new' relationship between India and the US. But we should not give importance only to the Indo-US dialogue. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown or Russian President Vladimir Putin [Images] come here don't they discuss similar issues? Why should we give importance only to the Indo-US dialogue?

There is Indo-French, Indo-UK, Indo-European and Indo-Russia dialogue going on. What is happening is that India is beginning to have its voice heard in an international sphere.

I would say serious attention is being paid towards India.

On the political turf it is being said that the nuclear deal is being done under US pressure. The critics draw attention to the statements of US senators and Ambassador Mulford.

I don't pay attention to their statements. First of all, I don't agree with those people who say that the nuclear deal will only favour the US, as I have said earlier.

India has not succumbed to US pressure on various issues barring one or two unfortunate exceptions. Yes, if the deal goes through on the basis of the 123 Agreement and on the basis of the clean exemption from NSG without qualification I think that will be good for India and not just for the US only.

And, notwithstanding the Hyde Act and its provisions...

I don't bother about the Hyde Act! That is not something that bothers me. The Hyde Act is nothing if you have a look at the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954. That is the mother of all such acts.

Do you think history will be made when India and the US signs the deal?

I have no idea if it will be signed or not. Legally and Constitutionally, nothing stops the government from signing the deal. But politics is another matter. If it goes through it will have an impact not only on Indo-US relations but will have an impact on India's relations with so many other countries that are members of the NSG. Our cooperation with France [Images] and Canada [Images] will increase.

Don't miss the concluding part of the exclusive interview with Brajesh Mishra tomorrow on how Pakistan can achieve stability!