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India's Bush backers

By T. Jayaraman

The pre-election rhetoric of the current Government appears to be giving way to policy perceptions that are influenced by India's Bushies.

IT IS widely recognised in India that the hallmark of the United States' foreign policy under George W. Bush is a more aggressive unilateralism, in the so-called war on terror or indeed on any other front. It is marked by impatience with negotiation and diplomacy, and a greater readiness for armed intervention across the world. It is safe to surmise therefore that the worldwide dismay at Mr. Bush's re-election is widely shared in India. However a vocal minority, led by the strategic affairs experts, has vehemently argued that India's national interests are best served by a Bush victory and that the current U.S. foreign policy represents a strategic opportunity for India.

This is a claim that rests primarily on two key arguments. The first is that India has a special place in the Bush election platform and, in contrast to Pakistan it is emphasised, is singled out for mention as a global world power, with the promise of increased cooperation in the framework of the `Next Steps in Strategic Partnership' (NSSP). The second is that a Bush administration will not be ideologically committed to a non-proliferation agenda.

But it is unclear that the record of the first Bush administration indeed justifies this positive reading. First, the non-proliferation agenda remains a central goal of U.S. foreign policy. The Bush administration is prepared to use the language of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the framework of international law where it finds that expedient, as with Iran currently. Even the announcement of the NSSP was accompanied by the clarification that the onus was on India to tighten its non-proliferation controls before any serious technological transfer could be contemplated.

More recently, two Indian nuclear technologists have been declared `sanctioned entities' by the U.S. for alleged nuclear cooperation with Iran. Overall India has obtained little of substance under the NSSP, whether in terms of cooperation in high technology or the removal of sanctions, particularly in the nuclear field. But more dangerously, under the new Proliferation Security Initiative, the U.S. also reserves the right to use force unilaterally, to strike pre-emptively and secretively against perceived cases of proliferation.

Clearly the pro-Bush argument also ignores the lessons of the last visit to this region by the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, when Pakistan was forgiven its transgressions on the non-proliferation front in short order, much sooner than New Delhi anticipated, and declared a strategic ally. New Delhi was left in the dark about the impending declaration, much to the embarrassment of the National Democratic Alliance Government. These developments demonstrated, if anything, a long-term continuity in U.S. foreign policy in relation to South Asia that views India and Pakistan at best on a par. The strategic utility of Pakistan's greater readiness historically for close military ties with the U.S. overwhelms other considerations.

The logic behind the patently unsubstantial arguments for projecting a Bush victory as beneficial for India can only be understood in the context of the pro-Bush lobby trying to sustain the foreign and nuclear policy of the NDA dispensation, one of whose central goals was the recognition of India's nuclear weapons status. The NDA Government was prepared to join the non-proliferation regime under U.S. hegemony in return for such recognition, if only at the level of words and diplomatic ceremony.

It uncritically hailed, or muted its criticism of, U.S. policy on every issue, from missile defence to the `war on terror' and the invasion of Iraq, at least partly in the hope of easing the way to this goal. An uncritical India is particularly welcome news to a Bush administration that is prepared to make soothing noises in return, conceding little of substance.

The pro-Bush argument could have been dismissed as a minority phenomenon, not warranting public opposition and detailed refutation, were it not for evidence of its influence on the policy line of the current Government. It is a matter of concern that the pre-election rhetoric of the current Government appears to be giving way to the chorus of continuity in foreign and nuclear policy underpinned by policy perceptions that are significantly influenced by India's `Bushies.'

India's Foreign Minister appears to have joined in the chorus of `a Bush win would be good for India.' The Prime Minister has despatched a congratulatory message of unusual warmth, praising Mr. Bush's `personal commitment and efforts' for a `qualitative transformation' in bilateral relations and his expectation of moving ahead with the NSSP. The letter praised Mr. Bush for his steadfast resolve and leadership in the war against terror, precisely the aspect of his policy that worries democratic Indian opinion. The letter also declared India's readiness to contribute to the electoral process in Iraq next year, when it is amply clear that it will take place under the guns of an illegal army of occupation. The serious negative implications of a Bush victory come closer home than one might have initially imagined.

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