'What is in it for America' That was how the national security adviser, M. K. Narayanan, reacted after the Bush administration proposed the nuclear deal to the Indians at Blair House, the official guest house of the American president, during the visit of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to Washington on July 17, 2005. Narayanan was joined in his scepticism about the deal by three other members of the prime minister's delegation, who plainly saw sinister designs behind what the Bush administration was proposing. They were: Anil Kakodkar, secretary, department of atomic energy; G. Madhavan Nair, secretary, department of space; and V.S. Ramamurthy, secretary, department of science and technology.
Kakodkar subsequently went public with his misgivings about the way India was negotiating the follow up to the July 18 agreement. Narayanan quietly continued the quest for truthful answers to his fundamental question about why the Americans were offering India an agreement that threatens to ultimately bury a discriminatory global nuclear non-proliferation regime, which Singh's predecessors have unsuccessfully tried to change for at least four decades.
Narayanan eventually turned out to be the matchmaker between Kakodkar and the foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, in the run up to the New Delhi visit of President George W. Bush, and the midwife for the Indian part of the nuclear bargain in the final 72 hours of negotiations that enabled Singh and Bush to announce an agreement.
But because Narayanan persisted in his questioning of the deal with the doggedness of a sleuth, the Indian government has witnessed an internal intellectual debate on a policy issue, the likes of which it has seldom seen. That debate opened the eyes of many people in the government who had become accustomed to mindlessly saying 'Yes' to anything if they sensed that an affirmative answer was what their bosses ' civil servants and politicians alike ' wanted. In the final analysis, that debate gave Indian negotiators down the line, to the junior-most under secretary, the confidence to say and do the right thing about the nuclear deal.
But what really is in the July 18 deal and the subsequent steps for its implementation for America' On Monday, even before he could get over his jet-lag from accompanying Bush to south Asia, Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, the key American negotiator of the deal, began going about the task of selling the deal to the American public and the US congress. India is a 'force for peace, a force for stability', Burns said in the first of his several public appearances slated for this week. And for a long time, Washington has been looking for partnership with such a force.
Regrettably, India's role as this new force of peace and stability globally is one that is appreciated more abroad than in India: for a variety of reasons, Indians remain even unaware of this role that their country is playing. Quietly, with patient work designed to protect New Delhi's strategic stakes in Afghanistan without, in any way, being identified with the Americans, India has emerged as the sixth biggest aid donor to the Afghan people since the overthrow of the taliban. This year, Indian aid to Afghanistan since the formation of a post-taliban government touched $ 600 million.
In Iraq, India has become the biggest donor of development assistance after the oil-exporting developing countries, and, of course, excluding some of the countries that invaded Iraq three years ago. New Delhi gave $ 20 million in response to the United Nations secretary general's flash appeal for help. Subsequently, at a donors' conference in Madrid, New Delhi committed an additional amount of $10 million to two Iraqi trust funds to be administered by the UN and the World Bank. These are contributions that Bush recognizes ' contributions that his critics in America and abroad also value because they have been made without joining either of Bush's military invasions after September 11, 2001 and, therefore, bear testimony to India's independent foreign policy.
Rashly or foolishly, Bush made promotion of democracy worldwide the signature theme of his second and final current term at the White House. He devoted a considerable portion of his inaugural address in January last year to this theme and followed up his democratic promises to the world with action that resulted in disastrous consequences for US policy and interests. But India has come to America's rescue and saved Washington's face with an alliance on a global initiative to strengthen democracy.
Together, Singh and Bush contributed $10 million each to a global democracy fund initiated by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and together they inaugurated that fund in September last year. Bush cannot partner his friend, General Pervez Musharraf, to showcase democracy. Nor can he partner his ally, Uzbek president Islam Karimov, who butchered unarmed protesters in his country only a few months ago, or for that matter, someone like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak who thinks elections are a mere pretext to legitimize his presidency until death. India is one of the few countries in emerging areas of the world, which can lend respectability to such grand American enterprises.
This week, India will join the United States of America, Britain, Denmark, Sweden and a number of other countries in pledging contributions to a new central emergency response fund at the UN. The fund is a sequel to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and is aimed to ensure an adequate UN response to global disasters. At the Pentagon, it has made a deep impact that when the tsunami occurred, Indian ships were the first to reach not only the affected areas in Sri Lanka, but also those in Indonesia. Those looking for answers to the seeming riddle of American interest in the nuclear deal with India ought to realize that, as Washington searches for new partners in an uncertain world, it will inevitably set its eyes on countries with such capabilities.
When officials, who travelled to New Delhi last year with the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said that America wanted to help in making India a global player, it was difficult to overcome the temptation to scoff at such a suggestion. But Burns said during his second public appearance on Monday that India is a nation, which has restricted its power to south Asia and has not exercised its global role. Yet, India is a power that has vital interest in a stable south Asia and east Asia. It is an interest which intersects with Washington's own priorities in the region.
Implicit in this is China's role in Asia and the obvious question of how China can be contained. That will, however, remain an unspoken element in Indo-US relations. Neither New Delhi nor Washington will acknowledge that China has anything to do with how the two sides are strengthening their strategic partnership.
Already, their commonality of interests has been demonstrated in Indo-US joint efforts of patrolling the Malacca Straits. Indian ships have accompanied Japanese vessels to safety, lending Indian naval power a dimension that extends beyond south Asia and encompasses a global role.
Such cooperation will complement what India and the US are together doing in south Asia, something that was unimaginable even a few years ago. The two governments are working together to bring stability in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. The nuclear deal has created confidence that is necessary to take such initiatives forward.