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Indian voices in the nuclear debate

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Explaining India: Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. Photo: AP
Explaining India: Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. Photo: AP

BY SEVANTI NINAN

There is an NRI media factor which gives India an advantage that Pakistan, Iran and the others do not have in quite the same measure.

IN the aftermath of the Bush visit, with a congressional battle ahead, and sections of a U.S. media which believe that the India deal sends a wrong message to Korea and Iran, there is an NRI media factor which gives India an advantage that Pakistan, Iran and the others do not have in quite the same measure. That is the Indian voices in the American media debate. Objectivity in foreign policy reporting or analysis is only relative. Journalists are assumed to be coming from somewhere in the way they view things, and it is usually from where they belong. National interest is taken as a given - there is the "we" factor, and the "they" factor. And somewhere in between there is the NRI factor.

Persuasive opinions

While Fareed Zakaria's is the most influential of these voices, there are others who bring an element of persuasion into the discourse over whether those who resist the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty should be made partners in deals. There is Seema Gahlaut, writing on Foreign Policy.com ("Misfiring at the Indian Nuclear Deal") and taking on the New York Times argument that present U.S. policy is threatening the carrot and stick approach of the non-proliferation treaty. She is the director of the South Asia Program at the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade and Security. She points out that in practice the non-proliferation regime's survival has depended on discrimination. "Japan is allowed to reprocess spent fuel and stockpile plutonium, but South Korea is not. South Korean scientists secretly enriched uranium to weapons grade, forged uranium metal from imported fertilizer, and secretly reprocessed plutonium - yet Seoul was not reprimanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), even though Iran is facing sanctions for similar activities. Discrimination "in favour of India, then, is not an unprecedented act that necessitates immediate redress by extending a similar deal to Pakistan." It is an argument that counters the most repeated criticism of the deal.In the build up to the visit, Zakaria wrote profusely on the subject and his magazine Newsweek ran a cover story on India in late February. He has been arguing that there will be gains to the U.S. from the pact, and trotting out his conversations with Nicholas Burns, Manmohan Singh and Shyam Saran to give an insider perspective to his reporting of the negotiations. More pertinently, Zakaria tells Americans that there are no real options to this course: "More lecturing was not going to stop India's nuclear programme." He also holds forth on the complexities of the U.S. relationship with China as well as the complexities of India's relationship with China and describes the differences between the two for an U.S. audience. Though the New York Times is editorially critical of the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement and wrote two edits on the issue, its reporting team for the trip included a reporter of Indian origin. Several of the reports were with the joint byline of Elsabeth Bumiller and Somini Sengupta and even-handed in tone. Sengupta's "Bush gives India a hug, Pakistan a friendly pat" was a long detailing of the many aspects of the U.S.-India relationship which will count for the future, with some realistic nuggets on how India views Bush's zeal to spread democracy round the world and how Bush's list of rogue states includes some of India's friends. The point being that the complexities of India's position perhaps stand a better chance of being conveyed when Indians do the writing.

Different perspective

A fourth example which comes from the U.K. has a Guardian reporter of Indian origin taking the perspective that it is the desire to hobble a potential rival, one which has built its nuclear industry from scratch despite its poverty stricken origins ("Spinning a Web for India", Randeep Ramesh, March 3) which is influencing American strategy in approaching the deal.

Tailpiece

Pakistanis unhappy over George Bush's "poor relative" visit last fortnight will be even more miffed when they read the travel diary of the BBC state department correspondent Jonathan Beale who travelled with the entourage. He describes the press pack fearing for their lives when told they would be spending a night in Pakistan. "There was a sense of outrage that he (Bush) could have ever been so selfish among these hardened old hacks. You see, it's ok for him. He's got Black Hawk helicopters and decoy limo convoys to confuse any would-be assassin. We mere journalists will be travelling by bus on the main road. We might as well have targets painted on us."


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