America's doormat?

Indias vote against Iran


The government’s stance on the resolution against Iran on Friday at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna rests on a lame excuse. The government claims it voted against Iran since the latest report of the IAEA Director-General Mohammed El Baradei is “difficult to ignore.”

But then, in 2006, India voted against Iran despite El Baradei's neutral position regarding referring the issue from the IAEA to the United Nations Security Council. At that time, the government came up with the excuse that India was behaving like a ‘responsible’ nuclear power - whatever that might mean. (Actually, the United States, which dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is the only ‘irresponsible’ nuclear power to date.)

The junior minister in the South Block Shashi Tharoor advanced the specious plea that Russia and China voted against Iran, and so did India. He was presumably covering the government’s backside from criticism by the Left parties. But since when is it that India began synchronising with Russia and China - two countries, which are signatories of the NPT and CTBT, both of which India rejects?

Simply put, the government has stretched its credulity. According to media reports, the National Security Council bosses of the US and India had a pow-vow in Washington and the Indian vote followed.

Abstaining vote

Curiously, Afghanistan and Pakistan abstained in the Iran vote. Although Kabul and Islamabad depend critically on the American largesse, they stood up to be counted as Iran’s friends. South Africa, Brazil, Turkey and Egypt abstained. Malaysia voted with Iran. They have ably shown it is possible to be key partners of the US and still be independent. In comparison, why are our czars such one-dimensional men?

Once again, India’s Achilles’ heel seems to be the nuclear deal with the US that stymies our foreign policy options. It has become a convoluted story. The nuclear deal cannot be ‘operational’ without a US-India agreement for transfer of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technology. The US pledged to do this before August 2010 but the co-relates of non-proliferation regime are changing.

Indeed, it is incorrect to say the nuclear deal cannot be ‘operationalised,’ as it is already operational. Except that without any agreement with the US, government cannot import nuclear reactors from America and may have to be content with Russian, French or Japanese reactors.

In other words, the government is seeking Obama administration’s goodwill and cooperation so that India can generate tens of billions of dollars worth business for the American nuclear industry. Does it sound funny? But it doesn’t end there. Now the government plans to ‘incentivise’ the US by legislating that the liability of the American companies will be limited if the imported nuclear reactors cause accidents.

 That’s how the government’s ingenious foreign policy calculus works - generating lucrative business for American corporate sector, which would in turn create pressure points on the US establishment to do away with the ban on ‘dual-use’ technology transfer to India so that India can ultimately transform as a ‘counterweight’ to China. Doesn’t it sound absurd? It bucks the entire gory history of East-West dialectics.

Meanwhile, what happens to India’s relations with Iran? Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s recent visit to Delhi was expected to forge understanding and coordination between the two countries over Afghanistan, where Indian and Iranian interests converge. In retrospect, Delhi was merely playing the ‘Iran card’ to catch Obama’s attention in the warm-up to Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US.

Surely, Iranians won’t be amused that they have been had. It appears we weren’t serious about a prime ministerial visit to Iran - not in February, not in March. The Iranians can also keep on hold their offer to create a joint regional initiative with India on the Afghan problem. Indians will only mate with Americans.

Our czars are making the country a doormat for America. The geopolitics of the region remains highly complicated. The US regional policies are at a crossroads. They could go either way. From any conceivable angle, it is highly probable that Pakistan will continue to be a pivotal relationship for the US - even if the US were to cut and run from Afghanistan, which of course will not happen.

Pakistan’s interest

At some point, the US will recognise Pakistan’s interests and threat perceptions, which ultimately devolve upon its adversarial ties with India. These are not parameters that can be easily redrawn. It is extremely foolhardy to foreclose India’s options in a security paradigm of such complexity.

The great tragedy is that we don’t insist on reciprocity for favours shown. In fact, no sooner than Singh ended his Washington visit, the US State Department clarified that the ENR agreement negotiations were nowhere near conclusion.

Why can’t our czars at least learn from their peers in Russia or China how to extract something in return from America for all their dhobi work?

At the very least, why can't they get the US to ensure as Pakistan’s financier that Islamabad doesn’t prevaricate about the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks? When the Indian ambassador in Vienna voted against Iran, India was still in deep mourning on the first ‘anniversary’ of the Mumbai attacks.

The prime minister returned home empty-handed except for a few more Rockefeller fellowships in the kitty -- for which, too, India is paying in hard currency. And we are to regard all this to be realpolitik. The country feels short-changed.

(The writer is a former diplomat)

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