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BALANCING GAME
- India's internal security is closely linked to neighbourhood politics

By exposing the limits of nuclear muscle-flexing, the Varanasi explosions should have pricked the balloon of euphoria generated by George W. Bush's visit. By demonstrating again how closely internal security is linked with neighbourhood politics which depend, in part, on the role of the United States of America in the subcontinent, the blasts should also give pause to those who are feverishly fantasizing about the US transforming India into a superpower while cutting Pakistan down to size.

Excitement over this unites saffron chauvinists with Congress functionaries basking in a glow of achievement and think-tanks and commentators who are dependent, psychologically if not materially, on official patronage and also infected by the craving for gloire. But their jubilation ignores what the deal portends and what it cannot achieve. It exposes anomalies and inconsistencies in India's position. Nor should gratitude for evidence of a special relationship delude us into imagining that the US is dumping China and Pakistan.

None of this is to question Bush's intentions or India's right to sit at the world's high table. But we should be objective enough to understand that a unilateral American exception to the nuclear order, albeit in India's favour, formally hammers the last nail into the coffin of multipolarity and consensual decision-making. Henceforth, the US can claim India's approval in riding roughshod over international institutions, organizations and commitments. The nature of the challenge highlighted by the Varanasi bloodshed should also oblige us to acknowledge that an obsession with the bomb, making nonsense of previous assertions about greatness lying in the moral and cultural values of 5,000 years of unbroken civilization, cannot protect us from the stab in the back of saboteurs and subversives striking suddenly in the dark or in the anonymity of crowds.

Two distant superpowers could threaten each other with destruction during the Cold War, but terrorist organizations are not daunted by the bomb. The US alone can restrain their sponsor. We are told that the government gave Bush details of some 200 terrorist camps in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan itself but have no means of knowing how hard the demand for closure was pressed, or Bush's response. Varanasi was ugly evidence that life and property are still at the mercy of sneaky criminals.

Henry Kissinger noted three categories of nuclear aspirants. First, states that are impelled by 'the desire to be a world power based on the belief that a nation unable to defend itself against the full range of possible dangers cannot be a world power'. Second, 'states that feel threatened by neighbours with larger populations or greater resources (and) see in nuclear weapons a means to pose unacceptable risks or to create a deterrent against threats to their survival'. Finally, nations that are 'determined to wreck the balance of power in their regions and'see in nuclear weapons a means with which to intimidate their neighbours and discourage outside intervention'. While Pakistan straddles the second and third categories, India belongs to the first except that fly-by-night murderers cannot be quelled frontally. As for the power of deterrence, Pakistan's meagre arsenal suffices to nullify India's potential might after Bush has removed its nuclear shackles. One illegal bomb is as devastating as 100 sanctified with US blessings.

Let us assume that the US Congress will pass the necessary laws, that John Howard's refusal to sell Australian uranium to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty will not influence other Nuclear Suppliers Group members, and that International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards for civilian reactors will leave India free to make all the bombs it wishes. The nuclear apartheid introduced by the NPT's arbitrary cut-off date will still persist, for the US, Britain, France, Russia and China are not similarly inspected. They can also withdraw from the arrangement.

Nevertheless, the deal recalls the Conference on Disarmament where Israel's Shimon Peres contemptuously dismissed an NPT signature as not being 'worth the peel on a garlic'. India's V.C. Trivedi argued that the treaty's only purpose was to 'disarm the unarmed', while Mexico's Miguel Marin Bosch was reminded of 'the slavery debates of the 19th century'. Yet, even in denouncing the NPT, India swore by Article VI calling on weapons states 'to make progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally with the ultimate end of eliminating those weapons'. India also cited the International Court of Justice's demand for 'general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control'. Will India now jettison Article VI' Or claim that it only restricts signatories'

Presumably, India now endorses the US position that signatories (Iran, North Korea, Iraq) cannot renege on commitments, not that Iran's enrichment plans violate the NPT. The logical corollary is that the four countries that refused to sign suffer from no limitations. Cuba does not feature in the debate. No one mentions Israel's illicit nuclear programme because it is linked to the US, and now with India. But Pakistan is central to it with Pervez Musharraf hinting that he might seek similar privileges from China which might still regard 'a nuclear-armed Pakistan as a crucial regional ally and vital counterweight to India's growing military capabilities', quoting the US Central Intelligence Agency's James Woolsey.

Three reasons are cited for objecting to any such deal. First, Pakistan did not develop its own technology. Second, it is a proven proliferator. And third, it has never shown any interest in civilian nuclear energy. The third factor only extends America's fig-leaf for the pact with India and Nicholas Burns's charade in New Delhi that the US 'has not recognized formally India as a nuclear weapons state'. The first two are also subjective judgments, and all three lie solely within American discretion. In fact, the NPT's erosion reinforces US supremacy, crowning it as the only arbiter of global power and bulwark against a free for all.

Bush's supposed 'double snub' to Musharraf, which is causing such glee in this country, will not, in itself, enable India to tackle Pakistan or the terrorists with whom Pakistan shares the common cause of Kashmir. Even the snub deserves scrutiny. A great power needs room for manoeuvre, as Kissinger also remarked, and the agreement with India gives the US just that without irrevocably alienating the other two regional partners. Despite the recent Pentagon report painting Beijing as a threat, China, with its cheap footwear, textiles and electronics, and its bottomless appetite for foreign investment in everything from toilet paper to sophisticated computers, remains an indispensable economic partner. Studies testify that the American cost of living would rise and living standards fall if Sino-US trade were seriously disrupted. But the Americans feel that China must be kept in check, on Taiwan for instance.

Providing territory, intelligence and military cooperation for Bush's war on terror, Pakistan also remains indispensable. A passing reference to democracy as Pakistan's future does not imply any reluctance to do full business with a dictator. The refusal to mediate in Kashmir only proves that Bush is more realistic than Bill Clinton was. And the refusal to duplicate the India deal was another piece of realism that acknowledged that Pakistan's craving is not so much for global status (like India's) as for Kashmir, subcontinental parity and the ability to pin India down in the neighbourhood. Nuclear legitimacy is less relevant in this context than the impressive package of arms that goes with Pakistan's major non-Nato ally status. Bush makes no bones about India's booming economy, cheap labour, investment needs, exports and rampant consumerism making it indispensable for America's continued prosperity. The strategic alliance is equally significant.

So, the game is to balance three Asian props of American power to best serve the US. Of course, the arrangement offers them attractive dividends too, as well as scope for bargaining. It might even allow India to take steps on its own to curb terrorist attacks, but never at the expense of the overarching framework of American interests.

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