Living with Indo-US deal —Tanvir Ahmad Khan

The public discussion of this monumental Indo-US accord in Pakistan was a fraction of the debate in India. Pakistan’s nuclear bureaucracy, be it in the Foreign Office or in the dedicated nuclear establishments, mostly opted for silence and discouraged open discussion

The bilateral meetings held by leaders of India and Pakistan with President Bush at the UN General Assembly highlighted a basic difference which the people of Pakistan should seriously ponder over. India received attention as an emerging global actor and as a virtual hinge of Washington’s future Asian policy. Pakistan remained a focus of concern as a country embroiled in a raging war on terror with its future uncertain and beset with potential dangers to the region.

Nowhere was this distinction more obvious than in President Bush’s assurance to the Indian prime minister that despite the serious electoral predicament in which the Republicans found themselves, he would exert as hard as necessary to get the final congressional approval for the Indo-US nuclear accord. It was, indeed, the nuclear issue on which Bush had made the sharpest distinction between India and Pakistan during his last visit to the region by asserting that their histories were different and that similar civil nuclear cooperation could not be extended to Pakistan.

The nuclear accord with India clearly has a value far greater than that of a problem solver in India’s energy crisis; it is also more than a source of commercial gain for the American companies hoping to win contracts for 10,000 MW worth of nuclear reactors. Bush has literally staked the future of an already fragile global nuclear non-proliferation order on his India project.

After it surmounted the expected obstacles in the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group which, incidentally, owes its genesis in no small a measure to the 1974 Indian nuclear test, the commentaries on the nuclear deal have continued to be notably polarised. “It marks the end,” said Manmohan Singh, “of India’s decades- long isolation from the nuclear mainstream”.

In his statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the US Under- Secretary for Political Affairs, William J Burns was even more lyrical: he described India as a ‘role model in the international community’. By 2025, he prophesied, India’s economy would most likely rank amongst the world’s five largest economies. Burns’ congressional testimony promised that India will support a peaceful balance of power in Asia, an observation that revealed the real strategic calculations of the Bush administration.

The policy of lobbying hard on India’s behalf did not go unchallenged. While Pakistan muted its concerns to a surprising degree, independent observers, including those in India, highlighted the deviations from America’s own nuclear norms, the likely damage to the global non-proliferation regime, the dangers of letting profit — it is an estimated $100 billion trade in nuclear reactors and fuel — override nuclear security and above all, the apprehension that India would divert nuclear material to build a big nuclear arsenal that would trigger a dangerous race in weaponisation and stockpiling.

The executive director of Washington’s Arms Control Association, Daryl Kimble, described the decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group as “a profound setback to the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament system that would produce dangerous ripple effects for years to come.”

Each of the several milestones in the journey undertaken by India and the United States has had important ramifications for the overall strategic landscape as well as the global nuclear order. Strobe Talbot’s protracted engagement with India and Pakistan after the 1998 tests showed that Washington understood that nuclear accommodation with India was the key to a strategic partnership that would one day change the balance of power in Asia. This consideration has conditioned all subsequent negotiations.

Global energy demand is projected to be 50 percent higher in 2030 than today. Over 60 percent of the increased demand would still be met by coal, oil and natural gas though there may be a limited and tightly controlled expansion of nuclear power generation. There is hardly any other case where the United States has committed itself to making nuclear power a major instrument of meeting the energy crunch. Clearly the nuclear window opened for India has all along had objectives far beyond a solution of its energy problems.

The US Congress passed the Henry J Hyde US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act (Hyde Act) in December 2006. It was followed by the more operational accord, the 123 Agreement, in July 2007. Critics of the deal now being clinched argue that in the months that followed, the Bush administration kept diluting the non-proliferation aspect of the Hyde Act to leave space for any future nuclear tests by India.

Earlier, the same approach informed the approval of the India Safeguards Agreement by IAEA on August 1, 2008. India will separate its civil and military facilities and place a total of 14 reactors under safeguards and open those to inspection by 2014. The military reactors will have no check on the production of fissile material.

There is a strong body of opinion that this arrangement will enable India to make a significant addition to its arsenal of warheads. In the Stimson Centre’s judgement, “the IAEA badly weakened international standards to safeguard civil nuclear facilities to accommodate Indian sensibilities and the Bush administrations’ lobbying.”

The public discussion of this monumental Indo-US accord in Pakistan was a fraction of the debate in India. Pakistan’s nuclear bureaucracy, be it in the Foreign Office or in the dedicated nuclear establishments, mostly opted for silence and discouraged open discussion. A charitable view was that Islamabad realised that the project was unstoppable because of the convergence of strategic interests of New Delhi and Washington and, therefore, decided not to oppose it in any forum. A less charitable view is that Washington’s pressure made Islamabad relegate its own national concerns to a secondary order.

Be it as it may, Pakistan still needs to formulate a coherent policy for the future. Clearly it should aim at maintaining a viable deterrent if India builds an oversized stockpile of nuclear warheads. No less importantly, it needs to determine the role that nuclear power generation will have in its own energy profile and formulate an effective policy to fulfil that role.

Tanvir Ahmad Khan is a former foreign secretary who can be contacted at

Source: Daily Times, 29/9/2008

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