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Nobody Cares When a Japan PM Goes; But We Should
  Written By: Joe Leahy, Financial Times  *
  Article Date:
September 15, 2008



India's success recently at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Vienna unleashed a wave of nationalist chest-beating greater even than a few weeks earlier when Abhinav Bindra, a shooter, became the nation's first individual to win an Olympic gold medal.

The nation's cable news channels dropped their usual fare of gory crime stories and political corruption scandals to provide blanket coverage of the intricate negotiations with the NSG, which eventually agreed to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India, ending the country's decades of nuclear pariah status.

But the media celebrations had an ugly side - China-bashing. Perceptions that Beijing had tried to block the deal from behind the scenes sparked outrage among commentators, who suspected China was championing the interests of its ally and India's nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan.

"It is in times of adversity that one learns who one's friends are," the Indian Express wrote in a piece lambasting China. The main business daily, The Economic Times, went further. "Slimy dragon wants deal for mother of proliferators," it said, referring to perceptions that China might call for an NSG waiver for Pakistan as well.

Rather than crowing about getting one up on the Chinese "dragon" and Islamabad, this should be a time of introspection for India. When the celebrations had died down, Bindra's medal prompted soul-searching on why the world's second most populous nation had only just won its first individual Olympic gold.

So, too, the nuclear deal should set Indians thinking about why their government has taken this long to tackle energy security, probably the country's most critical long-term strategic challenge.

From the beginning, India's civilian nuclear deal with the US has been as much about India's arrival on the geopolitical grand stage as it has been about atomic energy.

Not only does the NSG waiver allow India to emerge from the diplomatic nuclear winter stemming from its refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; it also gives it a seat at the elite club of nations that governs the use of the world's most powerful technology.

Long road

The road to nuclear acceptance has been a long one for India since the deal was first proposed by the US and India in 2005. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to brave a parliamentary vote of confidence to get the deal past domestic sceptics who believed it would compromise the nation's sovereignty.

Next followed negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on safeguards to ensure India's intentions were peaceful. Then the US applied on India's behalf to the 45-nation NSG to lift the ban on nuclear trade with New Delhi even though it has not signed the NPT and an agreement banning nuclear tests.

Even now, the deal is not fully done. The Bush administration in its dying days must still win congressional approval for the pact.

The deal has been perceived in many quarters as good for India because it has got away without signing the NPT. But critics argue that it is a complex beast that brings India under the sphere of influence of the US in ways that New Delhi could find uncomfortable in the future.

Marie-Carine Lall, a south Asia specialist at the Institute of Education, University of London, argues that there is a dangerous gap between New Delhi and Washington in their views of what the deal means.

The US sees it as bringing a maverick India into the non-proliferation framework. It also wants to use India as a counterweight to China and win Indian support for US objectives in the Middle East.

India believes the deal will give it access not only to nuclear material and know-how but also to sensitive technologies beyond the atomic arena. India also wants US support against the Pakistan-China axis, while maintaining independence in foreign policy.

Professor Lall says tension may arise if the US tries to use its new nuclear partnership with India to put pressure on New Delhi on issues to do with Iran, for instance.

Despite the deal's weaknesses, it is not as though India had much choice. India does not produce enough uranium to feed its existing reactors, let alone future capacity, and it imports about three-quarters of its crude oil, mostly from the Middle East.

"We are 70 per cent dependent on Gulf oil and we don't even have strategic reserves," complained ambassador V.K. Grover, a member of the National Security Advisory Board.

India has been a laggard in securing alternative energy resources overseas. In the past four years, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the state oil giant, has gone on a shopping spree. But, in countries from Burma to Angola, the Chinese have mostly got there first.

The civilian nuclear deal will not solve this problem overnight. Nuclear energy accounts for barely 3 per cent of India's power capacity now and it will take a generation to increase this to anything meaningful.

But it does send a signal that India is finally getting more serious about solving its looming energy security crisis. If the US Congress approves the nuclear deal, India will be able to claim it now has a powerful friend to lend a hand in this quest.

As for China, Yang Jiechi, the foreign minister, declared his surprise at the accusations in the Indian media, saying Beijing played merely a "constructive" role in negotiations at the NSG.

After all, why should Beijing be overly concerned about competition over energy from India when at this point, as at the Olympics, it is winning all the gold medals.

Source: Gulf News