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Delay will kill deal, credibility

india Updated: Aug 20, 2007 03:42 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
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So near, yet so far. After two years of passionate debate, that could well be the fate of India's civilian nuclear initiative with the United States if the Left goes ahead with its threat to bring down the Manmohan Singh government.

The country and the government have invested a lot in negotiating the 123 pact with the US. Just when India and the US managed to reach a compromise agreement, the Left has thrown the UPA government into unprecedented political turmoil.

"If the government is in danger, the (nuclear) deal is in danger," former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh told the Hindustan Times on Sunday. According to Mansingh, if the government accepts the Left demand to freeze the next steps, it would amount to killing the deal.

Mansingh, who has also served as India's ambassador to the US, feels the crowded US Congressional calendar next year would make it difficult for the deal to clear American legislative hurdles if India delays negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

"It is questionable whether the deal will survive a delay," he maintained, adding that the collapse of the deal would involve a massive loss of face and credibility for India. "It (the deal's collapse) will be a setback, not a calamity," Mansingh said.

Mansingh's sentiment was echoed by Vinod Khanna, a former Indian ambassador to China. Khanna argued that while the UPA should have taken all parties along, the government of the day is responsible for negotiating treaties and agreements with foreign nations.

The former envoy to China, who has reservations about the country taking the nuclear energy route, felt there would be short-term implications for India, but in the long-term, the country's fundamentals were strong.

Khanna stressed that the manner of the deal falling through and how this is managed was critical.

As of now, the draft civil nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the US has been initialled, but not signed. According to a former official, India could still try and re-open negotiations with the US on the text.

However, any re-negotiation can only take place with the consent of the US, given that the text of the accord has been frozen by both sides. Senior officials have also spoken of the possibility of formal signatures to the agreement at the ministerial-level.

NS Sisodia, director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, feels India's nuclear isolation will continue if the deal falls through, and that the country will have no access to sensitive dual-use technologies.

A former defence secretary, Sisodia feels failure to implement the deal can also affect purchase of sophisticated defence technology from other countries.

While defence purchases are primarily a commercial function, a broader political and strategic understanding with foreign governments would definitely help India gain access to hi-tech defence equipment.

According to Sisodia, opposition to the deal is coming from political elements within both the Indian and American political establishments. In case the deal falls through because the Manmohan Singh government goes down, not everyone would understand the nuances of the political events behind its collapse.

After all the debate and the political investment behind it, the UPA government and the Left parties are duty-bound to find a mechanism to resolve their differences and come out with a workable compromise.

This would be in keeping with the finest traditions of Indian democracy: that the foreign policy of the country operates on the basis of the widest possible consensus. And, in the changed world, the political class needs to build a new consensus around the country's foreign policy.