Monday, June 27, 2016

Cobweb of hype that Modi creates

Pankaj Sharma
27 June 2016, New Delhi

The failure of India's ambitious bid to become part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group has left the Modi government terribly exposed.

I am disappointed with the outcome of the recent Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary in Seoul. As a proud citizen of this country, I am also filled with a deep sense of indignation over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ill-prepared and last minute attempt to seek a high-table at the nuclear club. There is little doubt that the Modi government's approach towards seeking membership in the NSG was grossly amateur.

Any positive outcome would have been the culmination of the work started by the Congress-led UPA government. The process began with a joint statement by the then United States President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005. It opened up the possibility of nuclear cooperation with global powers. 

After a flurry of diplomatic activity, the NSG announced an unconditional one-time waiver that allowed India to commence nuclear commerce with the United States and the rest of the world in 2008. The decision allowed India to import much needed nuclear fuel to continue its nuclear energy programme.

 Following the NSG waiver, US President Barack Obama announced his government's intention to support India’s full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement). After the US announced its support, both houses of the Indian Parliament passed the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010. Since then, India has continued to engage world capitals in advancing the import of much-needed uranium.

With the change of government in May 2014, India's approach to diplomacy also changed. The personalised diplomacy of Prime Minister Modi has created several uncomfortable zones in the Ministry of External Affairs. His efforts leading up to the NSG Plenary in Seoul were watched with fingers crossed. 

Expectations were raised on the backdrop of his visits to specific countries to gain support. Finally, Modi made a dash for Tashkent to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, where he met the Chinese President. At the summit, Modi urged China to make a “fair and objective assessment” of India’s application to become a member of the NSG. All India got was a snub. China has maintained its opposition to India's bid.

To the uninitiated, the NSG is a 48-nation club that frames and implements the rules for exporting nuclear equipment and fissile material with an aim to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is a fact that anywhere between 10 and 16 countries have opposed India's bid for full NSG membership. Their opposition to India's bid must be analysed in all its seriousness. 

And, what could be more shocking than Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's assertion that India has no objection to Pakistan's bid for full NSG membership based on merit? In equating India with Pakistan, the Modi government has showcased its immaturity and desperation in dealing with such sensitive issues. Pakistan has a deplorable record as a proliferator of nuclear weapons technology to rogue nations. The Modi government must correct itself. 

China is very clear that India's application did not even come up for discussion. Only the criterion for entry of Non-NPT countries was discussed at the plenary since there were only two applications by India and Pakistan. Effectively China also equated India with Pakistan. There was not even a discussion on India's application at the plenary. The meeting ended without any definite timetable on when India's application will be taken up next.

After raising such expectations, it has been a huge diplomatic let down for the country. Prime Minister Modi owes an explanation to the nation as to what went wrong. The Modi government must also make its stand clear about the “no objection” to Pakistan particularly after the statement by Wan Qing—China's representative at NSG—where he made it clear that Pakistan is a close friend while India is a neighbour.

On the issue of India’s entry, the NSG is now divided. I recall the year 2008 when the same NSG Plenary agreed to grant India an unconditional waiver. Nobody raised the issue of our NPT status. Nobody put a pre-condition about procedures and criteria at that time. There was heavy lifting, very strong support from the United States and significant breakthroughs for Indian diplomacy.

There are many other issues. Pakistan’s National Security Advisor has claimed that the US responded to contain China, prevent the resurgence of Russia and leave the Muslim world in a state of controlled chaos. What has been India's response been to these claims? Why did the Modi government make so much noise?

 In 2008, NSG had announced an India-specific waiver which allowed our integration with the nuclear mainstream after decades of isolation. That agreement paved the way for India to also trade with NSG countries. These countries can sell reactors to India and vice-versa. The embarrassment to the country because of an unnecessary campaign is bound to haunt the corridors of diplomacy for decades to come.

Diplomacy is always conducted with wisdom, and in silence. It is high time Modi realises that diplomacy requires gravitas, depth, seriousness, and not public tamasha. Modi may be comfortable with uncertainty, but people of India are not. Creating hype is bad. Believing hype is the worst. Modi and his government need to come out of cobweb of creating unnecessary hype.

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