Nuclear deal and Asian conflicts

By K.N. Pandit

Indo-US civilian nuclear deal promises further cementing of good relations between two major democracies of the world. At the same time it is a boost to democracy in principle as the time tested political dispensation that ensures equitable justice and protection of human rights.

The deal is expected to meet India’s energy requirement, contribute to economic development and raise the quality of life of millions of Indians. That is how ordinary people will interpret the claim of ending India’s nuclear segregation.

Any deal of this importance and depth should not be taken into account either in isolation or in narrow national perspective. India is not a small country that will exert minimum impact on neighbouring countries and the region. What will be the implication on the region which, as we all know, is not only very sensitive but also involved in chronic conflicts and contradictions?

The first reaction of the deal took no time to come to surface. Following it, Pakistan President paid a hurried visit to Beijing and the two countries are reported to have finalized a civilian nuclear deal similar to one India and the US signed recently.  China will build several nuclear reactors for Pakistan ostensibly to boost her electric power supply. This is the overt part of the deal but what lies underneath is not known.

China has been wooing Muslim countries and they are responding. The nature of their relationship is very different from what obtains between the US and the Muslim world. Somehow; the Muslim world has the impression that China is not politically exploiting them or their natural resources to the disadvantage of their respective peoples.

How far would the Muslims feel comfortable with this myth is for them to decide. But China’s support to or, at least friendship with dictatorships and military regimes in Muslims countries shows that her interests in promoting democracy and egalitarianism in these countries are not of vital importance. Her logistic, moral and diplomatic support to Pakistan vis-à-vis India explains Beijing’s minimal concern for democracy to flourish in Pakistan. It is for the people of Pakistan to decide whether this is a friendly gesture or not?. Nowhere in the Muslim Asia has China supported a people’s national movement against autocratic regimes. Like any western country her oil interests constitute the fundamentals of her policy towards them, which is also very true in the case with the US as well. But the US has other designs also, namely the world policemanship.

As Indo-US civil nuclear deal was being hotly debated inside and outside the Indian Parliament, it generated an impression in the mind of some segments of Indian Muslim society that this was something against their interests. They called it a sinister nexus between US, Israel and India aimed at harming the Muslims world over.  Although many among the Indian Muslims were not convinced that the deal would harm their larger interests – something which the partisan sections of Indian print media, known for their anti-American stance had been vehemently propagating – yet it is likely that in the parliamentary election of 2009, such political parties and groups as are opposed to Congress will, in one way or the other, try to exploit the matter and strengthen anti-Congress lobby.

However, it has to be noted that the foremost cause of violent rise of terrorism in South Asian region is generally attributed to US’ massive arming and fundamentalizing of Pakistani and Afghan societies in the wake of Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in 1979. Proliferation of sophisticated portable weapons on a very large scale in the region with the objective of resisting and repulsing advancing communist ideology enormously reinforced combat capacity of religious militias. Today the Frankenstein of terror is looking eyeball to eyeball at the United States. By virtue of her deepening ties with the United States, Al Qaeda has brought Indian on its radar.  Sudden exacerbation in SIMI’s bomb attacks in various cities in the country and unearthing of their links to cross boarder terrorist organizations is not a chance happening.

Iran has been figuring in the Indo-US nuclear talks quite frequently. The fact of the matter is that the US wants dismantling of nuclear arsenal in all countries outside the Big Five group or the members of Security Council. Thus India, Pakistan, Libya, Iran, Iraq, South Africa, and North Korea come under surveillance. They are to be dealt with and put in place not through a uniform set of operative principles but through a bilaterally negotiated deal, if possible, taking into account the ground position in each case. Israel is a different case and outside this generality. The reason why Washington refused to have a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan similar to one it has made with India is that while India is a stable and responsible democracy, Pakistan is an instable state where ultimate power rests with the Army and not with its civil society.

Iran is stubbornly defying American pressure of shutting down her nuclear arms producing programme. UN sanctions against Iran are not proving effective as generally is the case with such sanctions. While Iran has been trying to drag India to her side by offering her the IPI gas pipeline project and some other concessions, Washington saw to it that this deal did not mature before the civilian nuclear deal was signed.  With a large Shia’ population mostly concentrated in Uttar Pradesh province, India wants to take very cautious steps in regard to her policy towards Iran. India has been one of the important actors behind the curtain to dissuade Washington from using a strong fist policy as in Iraq. Given the rigidity of the theocratic regime in Iran, one option with the US is to strengthen nationalist and secular forces in that country.  India would be very happy if that option works without giving direct affront to the theocratic regime.

It is clear that the US will deal with each of these countries in the light of a number of factors like area, population, type of governance, control and command system, strategic importance, demographic composition and the rest of it. The presumption is that Indo-US civilian nuclear deal will become a catalyst for de-nuclearizing program of the US in global context outside the Big Five. While India, Libya, Iraq and North Korea have been neutralized by one mechanism or the other, Iran remains to be dealt with. In all probability, Indo-US civilian nuclear deal may become the ultimate model whose board contours could help bring about a breakthrough. One has to wait till the US gets a new President.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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