March 30, 2020
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Come, Let's Do The Tango

The US lifts curbs, more to aid Pakistan, but hopes India will give in on CTBT. Will India play ball?

Come, Let's Do The Tango

THE partial lifting of sanctions is an invitation to dance. Let's see if this Indian government agrees to be the dance partner." This is how a senior American analyst explained president Bill Clinton's ostensibly conciliatory move, made months after he clamped down on India after the Pokhran blasts.

But it seems unlikely India will accept the invitation. On November 7, the day sanctions were partially lifted, New Delhi criticised the "selective and discriminatory" approach—in permitting multilateral institutions to lend to Pakistan, while barring that facility to India. The US justified this move to prevent an "implosion" in Pakistan.

A day later, prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee weighed in. He argued that the US decision was a vindication of New Delhi's stand on the nuclear issue, but at the same time was a discriminatory act.

What exactly is India protesting? In broad terms, what has happened is this: the US has lifted the ban on the US Exim Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation guarantees, which means that it removes restrictions on US companies investing in India and Pakistan. This takes care of the US corporate world's fears of being muscled out, especially in India, by other companies. Says Lt Gen. Satish Nambiar, director of the United Service Institute: "The decision is a recognition of reality. Washington realises that other countries will reap the benefit, if the US restrictions continue."

What Clinton did not do was lift curbs on IMF and World Bank loans to India, while easing them from Pakistan. Says Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research: "We don't need IMF loans. But we need World Bank loans meant for long-term development." Ministry of external affairs (MEA) officials agree. Says one: "India used to get about $2-2.5 billion annually from the World Bank. That's blocked."

The Indian complaint found an echo in the US as well. Though co-chairpersons of the India Caucus in the House of Representatives, Gary Ackerman and Jim Greenwood, welcomed the administration's waiver as a "positive step" towards rebuilding Indo-US ties—Clinton is due to review it a year from now—they expressed concern about the plan "to provide a one-time waiver of IMF sanctions for Pakistan while leaving it in place against India."

 But Washington sees no discrimination. Responding to a question posed by Outlook that the move was discriminatory towards India, a senior Clinton Administration official protested that India should not view this issue through the 'prism of Pakistan'. "This is no discrimination but an emergency measure to avert a financial collapse in Pakistan, which would not be in anybody's interest, including India's." He added that India would not be hurt "because it did not face an economic crisis and, as such, did not require emergency help".

He also didn't hesitate to point out that, unlike Pakistan which was predicting its own economic meltdown from day one, New Delhi had insisted that sanctions barely affected the economy. Another Administration source said the "action would create a more positive environment for ongoing non-proliferation discussions," which desperately needs a positive thrust. Despite several rounds of talks between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott, progress has been minimal. Even Vajpayee has been making this complaint publicly. Though others point to the expert-level talks on November 9 and 10 in Delhi to show there has been an advance—this round dealt with export control laws which have restricted the sale of high technology to India.

SOURCES say while the US is willing to recognise that India needs a minimum deterrent, the problems are manifold. For instance, apart from getting India's signature on the CTBT, it does not want India to weaponise its nuclear capabilities. From a point of opposing any further tests, the US is believed to have come around to India testing its missiles, but it would want to know how many missiles it intends to develop. But it does not want India to weaponise these missiles and wants the delivery systems and the nuclear warheads kept separate.

Then, there are rifts on the issue of fissile material. Broadly, says Chel-laney, what the Americans are urging India to do is "not to induct N-weapons in a doctrinal and military sense, not to deploy the weapons as a system, which comprises the delivery vehicle and the warhead". Adds he: "We can't give such assurances."

Chellaney feels the US action is not an outcome of the progress of the Indo-US dialogue. In fact, he claims the last round in Washington "ended in regression". An interesting but less known fact is the differences within the Indian establishment. Jaswant Singh, who heads the Indian team in the dialogue with Talbott, and Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the PM and de facto foreign minister, don't see eye to eye on Indo-US dialogues. The differences between them are so deep that, sources say, they barely speak to each other.

While Jaswant feels signing the CTBT would have positive spin-offs, Mishra says there can't be an open-ended arrangement in return for signing the pact. The partial lifting of sanctions is not enough. Mishra is credited with the view that there has to be some progress on the transfer of dual use technology, which still remains under restrictions. This partly explains the expert-level talks in Delhi. But there can't be a quick resolution of this ticklish issue, which is deeply entwined with US laws.

But the prime minister's public ire against the US, particularly his expression of dissatisfaction with the progress in the talks, is quite unusual. Is he trying to ease out from the commitment he made in New York? His UN address was widely interpreted as India's agreement to sign the CTBT. Says Kanti Bajpai of Jawaharlal Nehru University: "Something is moving on both sides and India seems to be moving backwards. There is an intricate game of bargaining going on." In this, he says India must look at China's role, the influence it might exert through hardliners who want India punished.

Of course, Chellaney and some MEA officials challenge the proposition that the PM agreed to sign the CTBT in his UN address. But there are others who concede Vajpayee's assurance was quite clear (though he did leave some leeway to escape from that commitment). The partial lifting of sanctions, with its discriminatory nature, makes the BJP government's task of building up a consensus that much harder. But it's believed that Washington, though unhappy with the talks, is willing to wait till after the state polls for the government to make an effort to build a consensus on the CTBT.

Says Michael Krepon, who heads the Stimson Centre in Washington: "The mood here is to wait and see how New Delhi responds. My sense is that the US won't go further. The initial response in India seems to have been 'how did we do vis-a-vis Pakistan', which is odd for a country which wants to dissociate itself from Pakistan. The Administration is also wondering whether the BJP can deliver on its assurances regarding proliferation issues. A government that was decisive enough to explode several nuclear devices is now tying itself up in knots because of Leftists on the one hand and right-wingers in its own party. Washington does not find that a persuasive argument."

So will India agree to be the dance partner? Says a senior South Block official: "Let's see. Let the orchestra strike up first".

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