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Why it’s not yours to squander

April 15, 2013

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.