Over the last 1,000 days India has been trying to get its nuclear status green-lighted by the United States despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The US Senate’s ratification in October of what is known in India as the ‘123 Agreement’ — in reference to Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act — will cause a profound shift in geo-politics for Asia, the Middle East and the West. For behind the deal is big power politics involving the two giants of Asia, China and India, the region’s basket cases, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Washington’s perennial thorn-in-its-side, Iran. There is also the US- led ‘war on terror’ to consider.
In inking the 123 Agreement, India now has access to nuclear reactors, fuel and technologies from the US — 34 years after New Delhi first conducted a nuclear test in the Rajastani desert. The deal has also put the US top of the list to supply the nuclear technology, valued at $100 billion over the next 20 years and will enable India to develop 200 nuclear warheads as well as indigenously designed nuclear submarines. Sizeable arms deals and economic cooperation agreements have also been inked, with the US expected to get the proposed $10 billion Multi Role Combat Aircraft deal and replace Russia as India’s biggest weapons supplier.
But in the bigger picture, what the bilateral agreement has achieved for Washington is a new ally in Asia that can pressure Iran, with whom India has energy agreements yet still little desire to see Tehran become another nuclear power in the neighborhood. India can also act as a bulwark against the emerging dragon, China. Just over the border from India, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, are an estimated 500,000 troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), as well as Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) bases. It has long been a trigger point and could be again, with numerous skirmishes occurring between the PLA and Indian troops over disputed border areas high in the Himalayas.
By bringing India — the world’s largest democracy at some 1.2 billion people and counting — onboard the US has a country that borders other states of concern whose democratic credentials are dubious at best: Pakistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
The agreement may also well be the Bush administration’s last positive foreign policy achievement. It certainly put a smile on the face of American president when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Bush that “India loved him.” But while the agreement is advantageous for Washington, it yet again sends signals of hypocrisy and double standards to the world. There are only four countries that are non-participants in the NPT: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea; but with the exception of Pyongyang, whose nuclear arsenal is still in an embryonic stage, the US has strong relations with the first three. Iran on the other hand, which is cooperating with the IAEA, is continuously under pressure to rein in its nuclear program.
The thawing of relations between New Delhi and Washington have, however, come at a time of heightened terrorist attacks within India by Islamists. Although homegrown, the attacks have links to Pakistan.
Islamabad was, after all, fingered as a perpetrator of the terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July, and there are allegations of financial support for Indian jihadists coming from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The deluge of fake Indian Rupees, which are a contributor to inflationary pressures, have also been traced to state-of- the-art printing presses in Pakistan. Furthermore, during meetings at the White House Bush and Singh reportedly discussed the prospect of Pakistan imploding and its notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) becoming “a state within a state.”
New Delhi is now mulling a beefed up anti-terrorist law and its National Security Agency has been briefed by the US Department of Homeland Security on how to set up a similar body to better integrate its intelligence services which, according to one analyst I spoke to in New Delhi, are still operating with a World War II mindset. Additionally, the Indian press has reported growing pressure on New Delhi to send troops to Afghanistan.
In the global ‘war on terror’, India clambering onboard the US train can been seen as a boon, but for the more skeptical, India has sold out in this new alliance and Washington DC has once again shown its Janus face when it comes to nuclear issues. Iran and China are the biggest losers in this, while the world has become an even more uni-polar place.
PAUL COCHRANE is a freelance journalist based in Beirut