|India’s new foreign policy|
| So too was the way he came into office in March 1998. Two months after being sworn in, he shocked the world with a series of five underground nuclear tests. India’s nuclear capability was now out of the closet for all to see.
The US government, of which I was a part at the time, was caught flat-footed. Some called the surprise an intelligence failure, which it surely was (CNN had the story before the CIA). But it was more than that. The Hindu nationalist BJP’s election manifesto - their equivalent of American party platforms - had spoken about “inducting nuclear weapons” into their arsenal should they win. It wasn’t spelled out exactly what that meant, but some close India watchers like the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former US ambassador to New Delhi, read between the lines. “The BJP as much as told you they were going to begin testing,” he later said to Strobe Talbott, President Bill Clinton’s deputy secretary of state.
So, adhering to the old adage “once burned, twice shy,” what can we read between the lines in the election manifesto of India’s victorious Congress party? Will the new prime minister, Manmohan Singh, have any surprises of his own?
First (CIA note), there is no reason to believe the new government will start off with a blast, nuclear or otherwise. The manifesto says the Congress party intends to “fine-tune the higher command for India’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” which is more organizational than operational. It says Congress will maintain these capabilities “at the appropriate level in the context of changing security environments.” That means, “China and Pakistan, we will be watching what you do.”
The manifesto also says a Congress-led government will go a step further with its two nuclear-armed neighbors: “Congress will take the initiative to have … confidence-building measures in treaty form to minimize the risk of nuclear and missile conflict with Pakistan and China.” That pledge will certainly be well received in the subcontinent and in Washington. Nuclear talks with Pakistan have now been scheduled for June 19 and 20.
So it does not appear that nuclear tensions will be heating up under the new government. But it does appear that the increasingly close US-Indian relationship - begun with Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000 and continued under Bush - may be in for a cooling off
period, at least initially.
Part of this can be explained by the fact that India’s Congress party has been out of power for eight years. Its political sensitivities and nationalist pride are on display in the manifesto, especially in its criticisms of the BJP government’s policies toward the United States: “Sadly, a great country like India has been reduced to having a subordinate relationship with the USA where the USA takes India for granted.” Clinton tried hard to place Indian-US relations on a more equal footing. Clearly there is more work to be done.
Leaving political sensitivities aside, the Congress party is uncomfortable with the idea of a single dominant superpower. The manifesto speaks about “creating a world order for maintaining equilibrium.” This suggests that the Bush administration would be ill-advised to renew its pressure on New Delhi to send troops to Iraq or push ahead with its thinking on drawing India into a tacit alliance as a hedge against China.
(Karl F Inderfurth was an assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001)
(Source: The Kathmandu Post)