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Why it’s not yours to squander


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Was there a quid pro quo between India and the United States, which ensured that Delhi would back a Western vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September 2005?

New information in the form of a Wikileaks cable would suggest a direct link between Delhi’s anti-Iran vote and Washington’s support for international civil nuclear cooperation with India that needed a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

“We have to be reassured about what we'll get for these decisions,” Joint Secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Relations Hamid Ali Rao told American diplomat Geoff Pyatt, days after Delhi voted against Tehran on September 24, 2005.

Rao’s comments would suggest that Washington had given some assurances earlier and he was asking for a reiteration of those from Pyatt. The “benefits” of siding with the US against Iran at the IAEA had obviously been made plain by Washington.

The remarks also lead to the interpretation that Washington would follow through on the commitments that the Americans had made to the Indian side.

Pyatt, according to the cable, expressed “appreciation for India's vote on Iran, adding that such a decision, in addition to advancing India's security interests, will have a positive impact on Congressional support for the July 18 civil nuclear agreement”.

The October 3, 2005, cable also reveals efforts at close coordination between India and the US to ensure that the common goal of the NSG extending a rule waiver would allow Delhi to avail the fruits of civil nuclear cooperation.

There’s little doubt in my mind that India’s September 24, 2005, vote in the IAEA marked a clear break from an independent foreign policy stance that Delhi had adopted for decades.

India’s decision to side with Washington had little to do with the merits of the Iranian nuclear issue, but was clearly linked to a strategic choice that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thought, in my view, wrongly, had to make.

On the same day as the 2005 vote, the Iranians made it clear that they had no wish to proceed any further with a $21-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal they had agreed to with Delhi, as I reported for The Hindu newspaper at the time.

As things stand, eight years after these strategic choices were made, the civil nuclear deal has led to the flow of fuel to India’s nuclear plants, given India an in-between status of a non-nuclear and nuclear weapons’ power, but has done virtually nothing to enhance the country’s energy security.

If no gas has come to India from Iran, neither have any new nuclear plants taken shape on account of legal, procedural and land acquisition-related issues.

In any case, post-Fukushima, till which much of the West believed that the problem in the nuclear industry was Russian-related, the allure of nuclear power has taken a severe hit, raising fresh questions about reactor safety.

Since the Indian vote at the IAEA eight years ago, the drift towards a pro-American stance in foreign policy issues has continued. In fact, the UPA government has simply carried on from where the BJP-led government left off in 2004.

The elite consensus in government foreign policy circles is unmistakable, but did the Indian people want the extreme pro-American turn that Manmohan Singh executed?

I would think not.

But you see, people are never asked about foreign policy choices. These, tradition suggests, are made by suited bureaucrats in the by-lanes of the corridors of power, occasionally guided by politicians.

If key domestic government decisions have to pass muster in Parliament, why not take key foreign policy choices to Parliament?

It’s the least that a self-respecting government should do.


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (33) Closed

Apr 15, 2013 05:15am
"If key domestic government decisions have to pass muster in Parliament, why not take key foreign policy choices to Parliament?" Please do not forget that UPA government defended vote of no confidence in the same parliament on the nuclear issue clearly and emphatically proclaiming the direction they want to take in relation with the USA. Our democracy may be imperfect but it is enough mature for you to hide strategic decisions on any front be it foreign policy. You may argue about how the vote was won, but that is basic democratic framework one needs to live with. And though BJP opposed (because they are in opposition), but we know they themselves took some early bold steps in the same direction.
Apr 15, 2013 06:51am
It was a wise choice to vote against Iran
Apr 15, 2013 07:52am
"did the Indian people want the extreme pro-American turn that Manmohan Singh executed"? Really?? Because of the supplier liability clauses in the relevant Indian laws, not a single deal has been signed with American companies on nuclear plants, while countries like France and Russia have taken a lead. Does it look like an extreme pro-American conduct? The writer needs to come out of the US phobia that communists and left wing intellectuals(?) so often display.
Apr 15, 2013 10:18am
This author makes an argument where cohesion, integrity and logic have been replaced by prejudice.
Satyameva Jayate
Apr 15, 2013 11:22am
The vote may not have been in India's interest, but it certainly was in the World's interest. The world does not want Iran to become a nuclear power. Did the Indian people want Civil Nuclear Deal? The Indian people certainly did. The author apparently did not. Can a country get something for nothing? The Indian people do not think so. The author apparently does.
Apr 15, 2013 11:32am
America or not openly, one thing for sure india is acting 100% a tea boy for boss, i mean boss isreal. yes i know every now and then india is made to look like taking stand against whole world, u must be kidding if indian every had or will have that power, its funny who india is suddenly found businessmen willing to spend in india and even company like fontara(milk product company from nz) is forced to open a branch in india even though they will always be making loss as there business is to do with Cows(yes COWS )......wunder why ...its all about dividing Pak into peaces so its neculear weapon can be talken away and Isreal can rule he world ......they plan and Allah almighty plan and he is the best Planners
Apr 15, 2013 11:54am
Take " key domestic issues to the parliament". Tell me Amit sahib, did your President then take a VERY KEY issue regarding America to to use Pakistan territory in the attack on Afghanistan or the tactic approval of drones in Pakistan to the Parliament?
Apr 15, 2013 12:04pm
Perhaps the tilt toward America was really pro-Indian, and not merely pro-American as the author claims?
Apr 15, 2013 12:13pm
Mr Baruah seems totally disconnected from ground reality probably because of his anti-USA mindset. He says for the last 8 years India has shown a policy shift. Surely there was a general election in these 8 years unlike our esteemed neighbor Pakistan, and yet the UPA has retained power. Even if it were the BJP in power more or less the same decision would have been taken
Apr 15, 2013 01:17pm
When a political party wins elections, let it make decisions and be accountable for the fallouts. It is because of people like this author that even after winning elections the ruling party is not allowed to make decisions. Yes, debates should take place but not on each and every issue, least on matters of strategic importance. It is this misinterpretation of democracy, that India's poor continue to suffer as Politicians think that debates ( fake war of words along partylines with complete intellectual dishonesty) in parliament, all the problems are resolved and they are not accountable to anyone for success or failure because decisions were made through 'consensus' after 'debate'. It also means no accountablility. There was nothing wrong with voting against Iran.
Apr 15, 2013 01:31pm
Please write in a language that mere mortals like us can understand!!
Apr 15, 2013 01:47pm
@ Pak what do you want to say ?????????????
Apr 15, 2013 02:07pm
iran is isolating itself from the world, so supporting a lost cause is not good for a nation's policy
Apr 15, 2013 02:38pm
Rajeev Nidumolu
Apr 15, 2013 02:57pm
"No permanent enemies, no permanent friends only permanent interests " -Winston Churchill
Apr 15, 2013 03:41pm
@Pak: That gets the prize for the best meaningless rant based on the wildest delusions.
Apr 15, 2013 03:44pm
"Surely there was a general election in these 8 years unlike our esteemed neighbor Pakistan". What has your elections got to do with the esteemed neighbor Pakistan?. Do you have to drag Pakistan in every thing, even when it has no connection? The article concerns Iran, USA and India and NOT Pakistan. Indians will never ever lose a chance to blame Pakistan even where it is utterly foolish on their part. No where does the article even mentions Pakistan.
Apr 15, 2013 04:25pm
Foreign policy is such a fluid issue, No country in the world including the USA do not make this an election issue. Mr. Amit Barua is wrong to suggest that this should be made an election issue. The elite like Barua may want it but the common Indian has bread and butter issues to talk about. He talks as though he is more representative of the Indian people than the representatives of Congress and BJP in the parliament. Further India cannot depend on Iranian gas as a life line because the Islamic axis of Pakistan and Iran always trumps the rational Democratic and Hindu state of India. This is evidenced by the agreement made between Iran and Pakistan on this gas pipe line forgetting the huge market in India. India needs to make sure that Pakistan does not have any control over these pipe lines and India will not be held hostage by these two Islamic countries for whom is Islam is more important than anything else under the Sun
Apr 15, 2013 04:36pm
And whats wrong in being friends... whats wrong in taking decision that help our country.. we need nuclear energy and we got a good deal from the world almost at our terms... its an smart thing to do..
Apr 15, 2013 04:36pm
Why do you think Mr. Baruah that civil nuclear deal that India signed was not in India's interest? Only because US was the counter party? If it was a sort of trade off for vote against Iran, so be it. Every country acts and must act in its own interest. Don't cry about the cancellation of deal to supply of natural gas to India. India was never confident or comfortable about IPI pipeline passing through Pakistan because of the security situation in Pakistan. And do you really expect that the parliament will discuss threadbare all the foreign policy issues when several aspects that go in deciding foreign policy are confidential e.g. India's defense preparedness on its eastern border with China. Will the government of India declare in parliament that it does not have faith in Chinese government and hence it will strengthen its defense infrastructure on the eastern front? But still it will do so.
Apr 15, 2013 04:38pm
What do you want to say? Please go to Pakistan,
Apr 15, 2013 05:33pm
the author seem to write to please the pakistni readers we voted against iran, so what did we lose? we have good relation with iran, and have a nuclear deal too weather we build nuke plants or not is secondary the author forgets we have million of indian in usa, working and studing there, plus our exports find their way to usa more then iran iran cancelled gas deal with us, but mow iran has no hard cash, and anyway any iranian gas through pakistn is not a very good idea we need usa there is now second thought about it, left in india is dead and gone except for nusiance value Richie
Apr 15, 2013 09:19pm
Au contraire, one of the biggest problems for the Iran India oil pipeline was Pakistan. If the pipeline from Iran did not have to go through Pakistan, it would have been an entirely different story. So, Pakistan is relevant in this case.
Bilawal Khan
Apr 15, 2013 10:45pm
What Iran has done for India? Never supported India in any international forum. India can live without Iran and Pakistan.
Apr 16, 2013 12:17am
Sure there might have been collusion, but his point is moot. India's membership in the NSG hasn't resulted in any agreements because the sign off came with too many caveats including intrusive site inspections.
Apr 16, 2013 01:15am
Looking at the comments here I get a feeling that this article was published in some Indian site first else Indians are following Dawn news very closely. Good for Dawn.
Apr 16, 2013 05:46am
my apologies @hyderphd as your point is valid.... i m an indian by the way
Rohan Chowdhury
Apr 16, 2013 06:18am
Just because Iran didn't support India that doesn't imply that India should stand against them in a offensive position.
Rohan Chowdhury
Apr 16, 2013 06:22am
It's not about loosing or winning ... Its about the legacy and reputation we lived with for years. And that reputation was ruined by such acts. USA is a completely terrorist country, totally owned by corporate. They just don't bomb other countries for oil or any other resources, they kill their own people to showcase that as an act of intercountry relationship violations, just to ignite hatred among those rednecks who are always ready to vote for a war.
Apr 16, 2013 11:20am
After reading most of mails I felt that Indians are very excited about their new found relations with America in doing so they forgot the non-aligned strategy of their forefathers whose founder was Mr. Nehru. Secondly, before being happy on these newly found relations with America Indians should look towards Pakistan what we got from these relation war, war and war are you ready for this?
Apr 16, 2013 06:26pm
also all good and useful technology like internet , cell phones , medicines come from euro and usa ppl
Apr 16, 2013 06:28pm
best of decivers
Apr 16, 2013 08:15pm
I don't know why Dawn publishes such meaningless comment.