Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006, pages 44-45

The Subcontinent

U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement Dominates Press at Home and Abroad

By M.M. Ali

Aside from its unwavering support for Israel, seldom has the United States gone out on such a limb to back another country, as it now has done with India. Indeed, Washington’s generous—and apparently unsolicited—offer of assistance to Delhi in the sensitive field of nuclear energy has created unease among proponents of nuclear non-proliferation.

President George W. Bush has described the agreement he signed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “win-win” situation “for all.” Although the U.S. help is aimed at boosting India’s long-term industrial energy needs and thereby spurring its economic growth, even some Indians find the speed at which the program is being pushed by the U.S. State Department intriguing, to say the least.

In the more than three decades since India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974 it has declined to sign either the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). After it tested more nuclear weapons in 1998, the U.S. imposed sanctions against it. Washington now must make India an exception to its non-proliferation policy or amend the law so as to accommodate the proposed agreement with Delhi. Meanwhile, India’s nuclear-powered neighbor, Pakistan, a long-time ally of the United States, has sought similar assistance, in the hope that it may join India in separating itself from U.S. opposition to Iran’s civilian nuclear program and North Korea’s military one.

In preparation for the required congressional ratification, by March both sides had lined up their big guns for the debate on Capitol Hill and in the press.

In a strong op-ed in the March 13 Washington Post, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reportedly the architect of the proposal, insisted: “First, our agreement with India will make our future more secure...There is simply no comparison between Iran or North Korea with India...the agreement will make India eligible for cooperation from Nuclear Suppliers Group...Our agreement is good for American jobs.”

Disclosing that India plans to import “8 nuclear reactors by 2012,” Rice urged immediate approval of the agreement, stating, “This is a future that America wants to share with India, and there is not a moment to lose.”

Arguing against congressional rejection of or even changes to the agreement, Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace maintained on March 12: “In our less than ideal world, where, we are often told, America needs good friends and allies, that would be a terrible bargain.”

“There is simply no comparison between Iran or North Korea with India...”

Also welcoming the Bush-Singh agreement, Henry Kissinger assumed his usual philosophical stance and, in the March 20 Washington Post, tried to explain to mere mortals the underlying economic forces that determine political relationships in South and South East Asia. “India will not serve as America’s foil with China,” he cautioned, “and will resent any attempts to use it in that role.” The former secretary of state went on to recommend that efforts be made to avoid the possibility of China backing nuclear programs in Pakistan and Iran as a result of a U.S.-India deal.

Following a State Department briefing on the subject, former Sen. Sam Nunn came out strongly the following day against blanket support for the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, urging Congress to “look at the broader framework” and attach conditions to the deal. “India was a lot better negotiator than we were,” the senator commented, describing the administration’s explanations as “totally counterproductive and dangerous reasoning.”

In a March 29 article entitled “A Dangerous Deal With India,” former President Jimmy Carter warned that the deal will only “open up a Pandora’s box” for nuclear proliferation. Quoting former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who wrote in Foreign Policy magazine, “I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous,” Carter pointed out that the agreement as written will allow India to seek to produce 50 or more nuclear weapons—“way above its present plan or capability.” Cautioning against proliferation, Carter concluded: “A world armed with nuclear weapons could be aterrible legacy of the wrong choices.”

“Serious Implications”

On March 18, Pakistan issued a statement cautioning: “The granting of [such a] waiver as a special case will have serious implications for the security environment in South Asia as well as for international non-proliferation efforts.”

Seeking to stem opposition on the Hill, India dispatched to Washington its foreign secretary and principal negotiator on the deal, Shyam Saran. Stating that “India cannot be a partner and a target at the same time,”Saran warned that any alteration of the terms of agreement could jeopardize the whole deal and have an adverse impact on India-U.S. relations.

Saran’s meeting with Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), however, did not go terribly well, with the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee expressing reservations about India’s dealings with Iran.

The international press—including, of course, the print and televised media in India and Pakistan—continued to focus on the subject. In a full-page article in its April 3 edition, The Washington Post chronicled the stages in which the agreement was worked out and identified the U.S. State Department specialists responsible for it.

Whatever the final outcome on the Hill, however, India will come out a sure winner. If it does not get what it never asked for in the first place, it’s lost nothing. If it does get it, it will enjoy a clear victory. Delhi knows that each time China advances, India’s importance is correspondingly enhanced in Western eyes.

If Congress alters or rejects the deal, however, it will be a major defeat for the Bush administration, which has put so much on the line. If it cannot rally the needed congressional support, the administration would be well advised to delay a vote on the Hill. India surely would prefer to wait as well rather than risk losing face after all the hype.

Pakistan’s Unruly Provinces on the Afghanistan Border

Tribal defiance in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province continues to challenge the authority of President Pervez Musharraf’s government. Local chieftain Akbar Khan Bugti, in particular, appears to be hell bent on causing problems in his region. Over the past several months his forces have blown up the gas pipeline that traverses tribal lands, disrupting gas supplies to various parts of Pakistan. Demanding increased royalties for Bugtis and a withdrawal of federal troops from the province, he even opposes the development of the Gawadar port. In Islamabad, President Musharraf has asserted that he will not rest until the “tribal leadership menace” is totally eradicated. Even though the tribal system is so entrenched and grounded in centuries of tradition that all earlier attempts by previous governments have failed, this does not mean that a solution cannot be found.

Waziristan, a rugged area perched on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, has been home to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, with support from the local population allowing them to move in and out of the area at will. The groups clearly enjoy similar support on the Afghan side. Pakistani forces have raided towns in the federally administered tribal area several times, and killing or capturing hundreds of members who sought shelter there—but also losing many of their own in the process. While the problem does appear to be diminishing, it has not disappeared.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been good in recent months, with each governnment accusing the other of doing too little to curb cross-border terrorism. After Afghan President Hamid Karzai provided Musharraf with the names and locations of al-Qaeda cells hiding inside Pakistan, Islamabad checked out the lists, only to find them obsolete. Trouble inside Afghanistan also has increased recently and, according to U.S. troops assisting the coalition forces, may escalate further as the weather improves in the coming weeks. 

Prof. M. M. Ali is a specialist on South Asia based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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