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Nuke kid on the block

But India’s acceptance as an emerging global power will be contingent upon its ability to secure itself and its citizens, says Amit Baruah.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2008 21:42 IST
Amit Baruah

The year 2008 saw India blasting into the world nuclear club, ending three years of fractious political debate at home over a deal that could catalyse its emergence as a global economic powerhouse.

But the strategic momentum that the deal brought in propelling India to the high table of global affairs has taken a pause with the attacks in Mumbai.

The timing of the terror strike couldn’t have been worse.
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/images/Indiacan5.jpg
One in the Bush: US President George W Bush with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

One of New Delhi’s strategic goals in securing the nuclear deal was to get rid of the India-equals-Pakistan equation that has marked the world community’s approach since the nuclear tests of May 1998.

After Abdul Qadeer Khan’s clandestine nuclear network came to the surface in 2004, Pakistan’s low credibility on the nuclear front plummeted even further. It was evident that no one would seriously offer a civil nuclear deal to Pakistan.

In essence, the civil nuclear deal with the United States, which won approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group this September, placed India in an orbit very different from Pakistan’s. Indian foreign policy had achieved one of its key goals, but the joy, as it turns out now, was short-lived.

Just as India was enlarging its strategic canvas, Pakistan-based terrorists struck at the country’s commercial capital — delivering a shattering blow to the country’s international image.

It was a rude reminder to the Indian nation that technological advance and strategic acceptance would have to be accompanied by genuine security for ordinary people, foreign nationals and the country’s institutions.

Days before Mumbai, the Indian Navy sunk a Thai trawler-turned pirate ship thousands of miles away, off the coast of Somalia, and won for itself international attention that had so far proved elusive.

It symbolised an assertive India. Equally, it was a reminder that while India’s Navy could strike thousands of miles away, it couldn’t stop 10 Pakistani terrorists from sneaking into Mumbai and wreaking havoc.

The fact is that there is no escape from the Pakistan-Afghanistan terror scenario and its impact on India. At every stage, India’s acceptance as an emerging global power will be contingent upon its ability to secure itself and its citizens.

Travel, investment and industry are all dependent on safety, security and the ability to inspire confidence in governance. But, in the end, live pictures of the kind Mumbai generated can only harm the country’s image and strategic capabilities.

To resume its strategic march, India will have to deal effectively with the strategic challenge emanating from Pakistan-Afghanistan. There is no escape from neutering bands of jehadi terrorists that inhabit Pakistan’s badlands.

India’s response will have to be intelligent. So far, the government has straddled that thin line between military strikes on Pakistan and business-as-usual. While aggressive acts will neutralise India’s diplomatic upper-hand, business-as-usual can only show up our collective weakness.

As Pakistani analyst Hariz Gazdar put it recently, a diplomatic, legal and institutional approach could help pin down terrorists while moving the democratic transition in Pakistan.

“Why should an angry India care either way? Because she may want to show the world how a responsible and confident power in Asia carries itself even when in pain,” he added.

Clearly, it’s not the beaten path that could answer the strategic challenges facing India.

The question, however, remains: is our leadership up to the task?