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Come out of the shell

The UPA 2’s reaction to the recent Israeli attack shows India’s pro-US leanings. It should instead chart out an independent path of diplomacy, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2010 22:37 IST

Unlike during the time of the UPA 1, an absence of checks by the Left parties appears to have emboldened the UPA 2 to pursue a pro-US foreign policy direction. Nothing else can explain the fact that the statement issued by our Foreign Ministry on the recent attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid does not even mention ‘Israel’. Despite tremendous pressure by the US, even the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution refers to the incident as ‘Israeli military operation in international waters’. The Indian statement is also silent on the implementation of the UNSC Resolution 1860, adopted in 2009, that declared the Israeli blockade of Gaza as illegal and called for an unimpeded distribution of humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s 1.5 million beleaguered residents. The three-year-long seige of Gaza by Israel has invoked universal condemnation.

The international flotilla of six ships had on board citizens from 50 countries, including Nobel laureates and 35 parliamentarians from various countries. They were carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid when attacked by the Israeli forces, which violated the international law in international waters. Israel has blockaded Gaza after the 2008 war in which more than 1,400 civilians were killed. International media footage chillingly shows the inhuman conditions in Gaza. Israel, however, continues to act with impunity chiefly because of the US’s firm backing.

India’s refusal to mention Israel in its statement must also be seen in the light of the defence deals that India has entered into with Israel. Over the last decade, India has emerged as the world’s largest buyer of Israeli weapons that are worth around $9 billion. The Indian Navy has an ongoing deal of Rs 2,606 crore for building a missile defence system. The Indian Air Force is in the process of inducting air defence squadrons at the cost of a massive Rs 10,075 crore. Non-defence trade with Israel, which was at $200 million in 2001, has grown to $4.1 billion by 2009. India is currently considering a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel — a country that does not even allow free flow of humanitarian aid.

Clearly, this huge flow of resources from India to Israel continues to feed the Israeli war machine and allows it to mount inhuman atrocities on the Palestinians and deny them their legitimate right to their homeland. Does the periodic official declaration of solidarity with Palestine by India mean anything in the wake of this financial support to Israel? Turkey, despite maintaining its strategic relations with Israel, has recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest against the recent attack — possibly the only country in the neighbourhood to do so despite requiring the US support to enter the European Union.

Further, Turkey and Brazil, two countries that share good relations with the US, have demonstrated the importance of striking an independent path of diplomacy and foreign policy in modern times. Demonstrating both the importance and the need for multi-polarity in the modern world — as against the US’s desire for uni-polarity under its tutelage — the two countries have brokered an arrangement with Iran that could break the current impasse over Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Under this arrangement, Iran will transfer 1,200 kg of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey. In return, it will receive the required nuclear fuel to ensure an unhindered operation of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Though Iran has the capability to enrich LEU into nuclear fuel, it agreed to such an arrangement to assuage international opinion against the potential misuse of such enrichment to build nuclear weapons, which is being mobilised by the US. Instead of accepting this arrangement, the US is busy mobilising opinion for imposing UN sanctions against Iran. This clearly shows that the US’s efforts to isolate Iran are less about nuclear weapons and more about power politics to strengthen its designs of uni-polarity.

The US volte-face was recently exposed when Brazil officially released the text of President Barack Obama’s letter to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Obama says, “For us, Iran’s agreement to transfer 1,200 kg of Iran’s LEU out of the country would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile. I want to underscore that this element is of fundamental importance for the United States. For Iran, it would receive the nuclear fuel requested to ensure continued operation of the TRR to produce needed medical isotopes and, by using its own material, Iran would begin to demonstrate peaceful nuclear intent.”

Some foreign policy analysts have articulated that India ought to have been the fourth leg of such an arrangement, strengthening the process of multi-polarity, as against the US reneging on its own commitments to establish its uni-polarity. India’s refusal to assert its independent course and kowtowing to the US pressure won’t result in the UPA 2’s desire to be anointed as the US’s prima donna in South Asia.

India needs to note the diplomatic track where the US is moving to confer Pakistan the same waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group as given to India. For Pakistan this comes without a Hyde Act and without the pressure of new domestic legislations (unlike our Civil Nuclear Liability Bill), notwithstanding its deplorable track record on nuclear proliferation. On the other hand, last week, US and China concluded a highly successful strategic dialogue. India must shed its desire to win the approval of the US and chart out its independent role in the modern world.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal