Tread Cautiously by Dr. M.Manzoor Alam (JUNE 05, 2007)

At the time of writing this piece (June 2, 2007) the Indo-US negotiations on the finer points of the nuclear deal between the two countries has reached a crucial stage. As is always the case, our major English newspapers, which are more loyal than the king when it comes to the United States, have already gone gaga over the prospects of a final deal.

In subtle and unsubtle ways they are virtually pushing the government to sign the deal (without bothering too much about its implications). The impressions being assiduously created is that we will miss the bus to heaven if we tried to be fussy, choosy, or even cautious. Another impression being created is that by tying ourselves firmly to the coat tail of the might Uncle Sam we will become his Sancho Panza to be feared and respected by every nation on earth.

These people have their own personal reasons to beat Uncle Sam’s drum, but the rest of us have no reason to fall in love with everything American. We should remember the warning of the great George Washington, statesman, war hero, and the first president of the United States that he gave to his successors and common Americans. This most respected elder of the nation told them that there was no permanent enemy or permanent friend. The only thing that was important was the American national interest.

This is one advice that the succeeding US governments, policy makers and people always remember while dealing with any foreign country. This is one advice that we would also do well to remember while dealing with any foreign country, without exception. There is no point in forcing the government’s hand to sign on dotted lines. The misgivings expressed about this deal’s potential to undermine our sovereign control over our nuclear policy and nuclear resources is not just somebody’s figment of imagination. There are some really serious points to be ironed out before making any commitment.

In the past big powers have always taken advantage of the ambiguous language of the treaties they have signed with weaker countries. One example can be found in the various agreements between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians take the wordings of the treaties to mean one thing while Israelis claim they mean something else, often just the opposite of what the Palestinians construe them to mean.

The Indo-US deal too is fraught with such ambiguities. The Indian side has been telling people that there is no infringement on India’s sovereignty in the deal, but the American administration has been convincing critics at home that it retains the right to inspect India’s nuclear installations aggressively and intrusively. The Indian side has agreed that the US has the right to inspect some of the installations, especially those with non-military uses and those which would get American help. The US understanding, we are told, is that it can at a later stage inspect the military nuclear installations as well under the same agreement.

Another sticking point is the provision of restriction on reprocessing used fuel. America fears that the reprocessed fuel can be used for weapon making, and hence it cannot be allowed. Naturally, India feels entitled to do what it wants with its spent fuel. However, it may not do so with the fuel supplied to it under this agreement.

Our advice to our English newspapers and America’s Indian advocates is to curb their enthusiasm, and be a little cautious before signing away the country’s future. This is not the Gandhi-Nehru tradition, and is certainly against national interest and national dignity. To sum it up: Tread cautiously on this sensitive issue and don’t be in a tearing hurry to sign a binding document.

Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam

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