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Chicken feed for the soul

Now that Bush has gone, it is time to evaluate just what this win-win situation might mean. There is no doubt that we appear to have given less than what we had either initially promised or what US had expected.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2006 02:09 IST

The George Bush visit was a giant step forward for Indo-US relations and India was elated to be part of the Big League. Now that he has gone, the Left protests turned out to be only that much bushfire and the euphoria of the visit has evaporated somewhat, it is time to evaluate just what this win-win situation might mean. There is no doubt that we appear to have given less than what we had either initially promised or what the Americans had expected. And it is not just about the nuclear deal — which, in many ways, is about as significant as our agreement with the Soviet Union in 1971 — but the other agreements or understandings that we seem to have missed out on while pursuing the nuclear story. For instance, what does this joint pursuit of democracy mean?

The question also is what has President Bush taken with him that makes it a win-win deal for him too. Surely not just the pumpkin or the mangoes because, however astute our diplomacy and dogged our stand might have been, the Americans are no rabbits. As Brazilian President Lula once remarked, the US thinks of the US first, then it thinks of the US again, and the third time, it thinks of the US again. If there is still time left, it thinks of itself again.

It is difficult, therefore, to believe that a country that had made nuclear non-proliferation an article of faith, had launched a foolish and costly war in pursuit of WMDs and subjected India to sanctions for more than 30 years has suddenly given all that up. What is more, has it thrown open the doors of hi-tech denied to us all these years, just for the market of 300 million Indians or a possible counter to China?

The US could have had this market any time it wanted, it could have sold weapons that it wanted to sell; it did not need this nuclear deal to be able to do that. The US president heads a system that believes in domination and control and not in charity. Thus there has to be something more, because in any deal there has to be some give too. Either we do not know yet or we are not telling.

The neo-con policy of pre-emptive action was largely nascent till 9/11 happened. This was immediately invoked and led to the costly and mistaken Iraq action. The failure of this attempt to go it virtually alone led to a re-evaluation of tactics and strategy, but not of goals.

There were three major threats perceived to the American way of life. One, the rise of China. Second, the reaching out of Islam to its lost empire, from Spain to the Philippines, but which is for the moment without a king, emperor or a centre. Third, and connected to the second, extremism that was virulently anti-American and could become nuclear-armed. The US could not tolerate that States where control of nuclear weapons could not be verified should hold them.

We remember that immediately after 9/11, anthrax scare overtook all of America. Unknown to the rest of the world, US intelligence was also working on reports that a suitcase nuclear bomb was around. The Afghan war was on, the massive attack on Tora Bora had not led to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants had disappeared into Pakistan and the nuclear scare brought visions of Armageddon. “Go massive. Wrap it all up,” was the clarion call in the early days of the War on Terror.

Pakistan was the problem country. It was required for the war on terror but was also a country most prone to pass on nuclear secrets and material to al-Qaeda and other groups. Musharraf had to be strengthened but Pakistan had to be neutralised without the Indians taking advantage. Thus the nuclear trigger and arsenal had to be controlled in both countries, but the two had to be tackled differently. It would be easier to coerce the Pakistanis into submission, accustomed as the Pakistanis were to receiving orders from above. The Indians, on the other hand, tended to snarl and bite at coercion but were extremely susceptible to adulation and praise. That would be the route to take.

George Friedman, whose organisation, STRATFOR, is sometimes described as the shadow CIA, makes the startling disclosure in his book, America’s Secret War, that in March 2002, US forces from the Special Operations Command and other specialised units, along with scientists from Nest (Nuclear Emergency Research Teams), were deployed simultaneously to all of Pakistan’s nuclear reactors. Friedman says it is not known whether Musharraf had caved in or had simply been presented with a fait accompli. He does, however, say that once Musharraf had agreed to abide by the new rules and started arresting some of the extremists in Pakistan, he had become dependent on the US for survival.

This is the genesis of the civilian nuclear deal and all its preconditions. The ultimate goal is to cap the Indian nuclear deterrent. The best way to do this was to build bridgeheads through illusions of grandeur into various instruments of policy and influence in India, think-tanks and strategist thinkers, the armed forces, the media, the polity and civil society more at ease with the US than its own 700 million Indians eager to identify itself with America. The Americans were in the ideal position of having got the Indians to ask for something they would give subject to preconditions. There are glimpses of this when we are lauded for voting with the US on Iran or advised on where to get our energy resources from, rather than Iran. It would not be surprising if the US ambassador tells us that the recent photograph of President Kalam with Myanmar leader Gen. Than Shwe did not go down well with the US Congress. These are only early days.

The other threat the US assesses is the rise of anti-Americanism in Islamic countries. But the US forces are overstretched. The unilateral policy of shock and awe had not worked but the Islamic world had to be contained. The new route would be to spread democracy and freedom in selected countries of this region. But friends like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would be spared this ordeal.

This is where it is important to know what India might be required to do as a member of the Budapest-based International Centre for Democratic Transition following our agreement to cooperate in the promotion of democracy. This organisation is an offshoot of Communities of Democracies programme of the US State Department, which is an off-shoot of the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) formed in 1983 and now controlled by neo-cons. The NED, set up to “support democratic institutions throughout the world through private, non-governmental efforts”, has a history of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Pax America in a different lane.

India will be expected, as a “responsible major power”, to provide democracy’s foot soldiers to tackle jehad’s foot soldiers because the US has the means but not the manpower to deliver. We are going to get caught in schemes of which we have very little idea and no control. So far we have been on the radar screen of international jehadis as a minor blip. As a partner of the US, we are going to reap economic advantages but also become more prominent targets of the jehadis. Akshardham, Ayodhya and Varanasi are curtain-raisers for an assault on India.

First Published: Mar 15, 2006 02:09 IST