All entries for Tuesday 02 August 2005

August 02, 2005

Looking Beyond the Well

SAAG Paper 1475, 26.07.2005

We are aware of the story of the frog in the well. His world was within the walls of the well, outside which he never even bothered to venture. As India, branded an “emerging economic superpower” by President George W Bush, contemplates “taking forward the strategic partnership” with the United States, it is finally shedding its frog-in-the-well type mentality. And so it should.

On his visit to Washington, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally gave the impression that India had overcome its fixation on Pakistan. In his entire speech to the joint session of the US Congress, Pakistan was not mentioned directly even once. While taking a snipe at the “proliferating neighbours” and mentioning the A Q Khan network, Singh abstained from being drawn into criticising Islamabad. He merely rested India’s case before the Congress- that it had an “impeccable record” as a non-proliferating and was a responsible nuclear power, and hence should benefit from technology transfer in high-tech fields of civilian nuclear energy.

This attitude should be seen in the context of recent comments by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice that the Indo-US relationship should not be seen as being “hyphenated”, i.e., anything that is beneficial for Pakistan is the opposite for India. Moreover, it depicts India as a growing global power that is ready to look beyond regional bickering.

Even as America refused to back the G-4 resolution for permanent membership of the United Nation Security Council, citing the time to be “not right”, Mr Singh’s reaction was unperturbed. He insisted that “India has a compelling case for permanent membership of the Security Council”, and as the only democracy with 1 billion people that is also a nuclear power and one of the world’s fastest growing economies, should have “greater ability to participate” in the highest strata of
the global bureaucracy.

The leftist parties in India are vocally suspicious of the White House and argue that India is disposing off its sovereignty in return for a few bags of cash to the Americans. However, India’s changing attitude is not merely being reflected in its dealings with the United States, but it is clearly visible in her arguments against the xenophobic junta back home.

In a press conference after the US agreed to co-operate with India on “the whole range of civilian nuclear energy” including technology transfer, fuels for the Tarapur plant and allowing other countries to do the same, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran silenced the critiques. He argued that “If you [go by] the principle that [we] will do nothing more and nothing less than any other nuclear state, what are we giving away?” This commitment is merely a quid pro quo for India with America finally welcoming her to the ‘legitimate nuclear state’ club.

Because of the markedly changed manner in which Dr Singh has projected India to President Bush, certain benefits are in the offing. He gave clear signs of the “growing bonds of co-operation” in nuclear energy, civilian space programmes and high-technology commerce” with India. Going further, he said, “We are looking to expand economic ties with India [per se]”. The Indo- American CEO forum should be another step towards fostering greater trade and investment. The Prime Minister asserted to the Congress that although India moves at a slow pace when it comes to economic reforms, they are “entrenched and irreversible”. That should do a lot to change perceptions.

Even on the contentious area of Kashmir, India managed to get a clarification on the American position. President Bush argued for the “sanctity of the Line of Control” in the valley, the traditional Indian position. This rules out any explicit American support towards Pakistan if it pushes for any change in the maps.

Manmohan Singh’s strong statements about terrorism and his apparent resolve to fight it without compromise should have many takers in Washington. Without resorting to anti-Pakistan or anti-jihadi rhetoric, Dr Singh unequivocally announced that the world “…must fight terrorism…in all possible forms”, and it “cannot be selective”. He also carefully drew parallels between the sufferings of the American and the Indian populace at the hands of terror.

Such tactics would slowly but decisively shift India closer to the US. Added to this was his constant comparisons between the two countries when it came to upholding the mutually respected notions of “liberty, democracy and freedom”, and the fact that America is “the oldest democracy in the world, and [India] is the largest”, amidst loud cheering from the Congressmen.

Many would argue that while arising out of the ‘well’ of petty regional issues, India is falling into another one- that of pax Americana. Indeed, India has to be careful that it’s increased “contribution towards global peace and security”, as Dr Singh wants for her, does not lead her to play the role of the prime anti-China force in Asia.

But we are a long way from that. For now, Dr Singh can get the flight back home, satisfied that he has successfully portrayed India as a mature democracy which is also an aspiring global heavyweight, yet a benign power adhering to the values held strictly by the free world.

August 2005

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