Dear Prime Minister,
I am a supporter of the nuclear deal, which you have concluded with the American president, George W. Bush ' as an Indian citizen and as a columnist who has had a ringside view of the progress of this accord from its womb to its presently perilous infancy. But I am convinced that in your zeal to see a speedy implementation of civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the United States of America, you are putting at risk precisely those long-term objectives for which you worked out the nuclear agreement with the US between July last year and March, 2006.
Many of India's genuine friends across the US who have stood with us when it was neither fashionable or desirable for them to do so are concerned that the pace at which this deal is being pushed through the due processes necessary here for its legalization is not in India's interest, nor in America's interest, and most of all, not conducive to a long-term strategic partnership between the two countries. They are also concerned that the tactics, which are being used by both governments to make the deal a reality, will be counter-productive in the long-run.
Most of those whom India can truly call its tried and trusted friends on Capitol Hill want to see the 100-member Senate pass the enabling legislation by a two-thirds majority or thereabouts. The same goes for the House of Representatives, which has 435 members. Actually the deal is in greater peril in the House than in the Senate, as of now.
The estimates here keep changing every week, but for at least the past one month, many of India's friends in the Senate believe that this chamber will give consent to the Indo-US nuclear deal by 51 in favour to 49 against or 55 to 45. The numbers depend on who you engage ' the Optimists with a capital 'O' or those who are only moderately hopeful about the fate of Senator Richard Lugar's legislation in this regard. Ditto for the House, where Congressman Henry Hyde piloted the bill.
Notwithstanding this optimism about the deal squeaking through both chambers, what most of them want is for the Senate and the House to give their unequivocal stamp of approval for civil nuclear cooperation with India. That means 65 votes in favour in the Senate ' at any rate, no less than 60 in New Delhi's favour.
Similar numbers for the House of Representatives too. Do you know why many of those who are sincerely working for the adoption of this deal want both chambers to put a clear seal of approval on it' They will not discuss this in public for obvious reasons, but most of them are reconciled to the realistic prospect that in the next two or three decades there could be 10 or 15 new nuclear weapons states. Nuclear non-proliferation is in global retreat, aided in no small measure by the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan eight years ago and Israel's undeclared nuclear bomb.
The realists on Capitol Hill know ' but they will not acknowledge it openly ' that the nature of the global nuclear threat is changing. A significant number of India's friends in America, who stood by us in the difficult days after Pokhran-II, factor into their handling of the nuclear deal the possibility that India may have to test another nuclear weapon some time in the future. 'Why do you think China, Egypt, Israel and the US have not ratified the comprehensive test ban treaty' they ask you when discussing the changing pattern of nuclear proliferation worldwide.
America is very fickle. Who would have thought ten years ago that America's relations with Germany ' whose transformation from the Third Reich to a stable democracy is a matter of proprietary pride here ' would reach its nadir in the run-up to Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003' Or that the French ' whose contribution to the defeat of Cornwallis during the American War of Independence was crucial to the birth of the US ' would be at the receiving end of Washington's wrath during much of Bush's term in the White House'
American legislators faithfully reflect this fickleness in their voting patterns in the Congress and in their public positions. John Kerry's failed presidential campaign in 2004 became memorable for his quip when Bush's challenger came under attack for his shifting positions on Iraq: 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,' Kerry said regarding the Bush administration's request for more funding for the Iraq war effort.
It will not come as a surprise to you that most of the time it is Congressional aides who define positions for their bosses, and American legislators simply cast their votes in the Senate and the House the way they are told to do so by their staffers. They are very much like the majority of your cabinet members, who quietly sign on the dotted line drawn for them by the secretaries, special secretaries or additional secretaries in the ministries, which they supposedly head.
The worry here among those Americans who want civil nuclear cooperation with India to be lasting and productive is that should anything go wrong between New Delhi and Washington in the next 10 or 15 years, many of those who may now vote for the deal because they are under pressure to do so without realizing its implications may well turn round and disown their vote, Kerry-style. Where will that leave a future prime minister, especially since India is unlikely to become a satellite of the US, and will hopefully retain its independence in decision-making' But if America's legislature convincingly endorses the deal, it will have lasting credibility and moral authority even if some Senators or Congressmen change their minds later, or if a future president disowns the agreement.
The reason why the sentences relating to the nuclear deal went the way they did into the joint statement you issued with Bush on July 18, 2005, was because they were negotiated on the American side primarily by career foreign-service officers who are bilateralists. Confronted by a doggedly inflexible Indian negotiating team and pressure from the US political leadership for results, some of them decided to be no more than pen-pushers. That has changed since.
Only July 18 last year, America's arms control czar was very new to his job and provided few inputs into the announcement of the nuclear deal. Important vacancies in the state department's bureau of international security and non-proliferation were largely unfilled. That is no longer the case and those officers who have moved into their jobs are making up for lost time, correcting what they see as aberrations in the agreement you concluded with Bush.
Subtly and surreptitiously, these committed non-proliferationists, aided by their counterparts outside the US government, are slipping in elements into the deal, which were not part of the package that you envisioned when you entered into a deed of trust with Bush. We can still counter this breach of faith, but that will be possible only if the foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, gets the kind of institutional backing that he needs to counter those here who ostensibly support the deal, but whose actions will actually lead to its demise.
Adding to India's difficulties is the composition and methods of an Indian-American campaign to shore up support among US legislators for the deal. A similar drive after Pokhran-II was tightly controlled from behind the scenes by the Indian embassy in Washington and scrupulously overseen by New Delhi. The present campaign, on the other hand, has been allowed to be hijacked by self-serving individuals and publicity hounds. Fly-by-night organizations in support of the deal have sprung up, some of them headed by people who have figured in CBI charge-sheets.
You may ask how they can be prevented from campaigning for India. Ask Naresh Chandra, who was ambassador here during the nuclear tests. He refused to associate himself with such people, and yet, used junior officers in the embassy to exploit their well-known and questionable connections with American politicians. But when you are in a hurry, you have to dispense with discretion. We can only hope that the country does not pay a big price for not being able to exercise the luxury of choice.
K.P. Nayar, Washington