Tuesday, July 22, 2008

India to jump start to shed its nuclear `pariah’ status

Curtains are going to fall tonight in India on the two-year old controversy whether to go through the various stages to operationalize the Indo-US nuclear accord. The number game in the Indian parliament, which has been taking surprising twists in the past few days, seems to be finally giving an edge to the ruling coalition led by the Congress Party.

While the confidence motion in the Indian parliament was precipitated by the government’s insistence to go ahead with the IAEA and NSG approvals, most of the parties have different designs and equations. The decision of the leftists to withdraw support to the government was not on account of the `devil in the details’ of the agreement, but on the larger issue of a strategic alliance with the United States, which was their primary principled objection. If the government wins the confidence vote, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)is likely to see a great shake up.

BJP, the right wing party, and the so called Third Front parties have formed opportunistic alliances as the next parliamentary elections are round the corner. None of these non-leftist parties have any ideological objections against the nuclear deal or the strategic relationship with the US.

Now the government seems to be set to win the confidence vote to go ahead with the stages of IAEA and NSG approvals. Indian Foreign Secretary briefed a combined session of IAEA and NSG members in Vienna last week, with US officials were at hand to ensure that the IAEA safeguards agreement sails through the Board of Governors.

But the process does not seem to be a safe sail for India. Several countries, including Australia, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Norway etc., are still apprehensive of giving a special status to India. Pakistan, India’s archrival, is trying to block a consensus by insisting on voting on India-specific safeguards agreement in the IAEA. Even if the agreement goes through the Board of Governors, NSG is another major hurdle for India. The US is expected to go the extra mile to pressure the unwilling members to vote for it, but the next stage of getting the Congressional approval is really a near impossible task in view of the Presidential elections and schedule of the Congress. The Bush administration may try to facilitate it if all the initial stages are completed on time.

This is a significant development as the US has finally discarded its South Asia policy of maintaining strategic balance between India and Pakistan. India’s growing global status in economic and technological spheres seem to have won the day.

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