George W. Bush’s Visit to the Indian Subcontinent (ARI)

George W. Bush’s Visit to the Indian Subcontinent (ARI)

Theme: An analysis of the context of President George W. Bush’s tour of the Indian Subcontinent, along with some consequences and predictions on the nuclear energy accord signed with India.

Summary: George W. Bush’s recent tour of South Asia concluded satisfactorily with Washington’s success in simultaneously bolstering relations with India and Pakistan, an unprecedented achievement. The American administration’s strategic realism has allowed it to achieve a triangular balance by which the two nations have agreed to accept the indirect benefits to be derived from the new situation. In India’s case, the signing of multiple accords, among them the controversial nuclear energy cooperation agreement, has confirmed the intentions expressed by Washington in July of 2005 during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the US. Meanwhile, the meeting in Pakistan has been proof of Bush’s support for President Musharraf at a critical time for the country, and despite the growing scepticism in Washington about the Pakistani President’s degree of true commitment to bring about necessary reforms.


India is ‘Unique’
The meeting between George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh in New Delhi ended with the signing of multiple accords that reverse the nature of 30 years of relations between the two countries, and lay the foundation for cooperation in defence, trade in high technology, space projects, the development of democracy, and nuclear energy. In the latter field, the two leaders sealed a historic treaty that culminates the process begun on 18 July 2005 when Manmohan Singh visited Washington DC.

With this commitment Bush reiterates his intention of providing India with the necessary means to further advance its already consolidated position as a regional power. This is a conscious positioning on the future of India given its growing international importance; an India that has become visible to the eyes of the world in the post 9/11 era by demonstrating that it is part of the democratic world, is open to the global economy and has shared concerns as regards security and terrorism. At the same time it is a vote of confidence in the country’s responsible management of its nuclear arsenal, its demonstrated ability to effectively overcome crises with neighbouring countries, and its capacity to cushion and absorb its internal conflicts without endangering its democratic stability.

According to the proposal India agrees to classify 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors as civilian facilities, which implies submitting them for the first time to international security inspections. The remainder, including a fast-breeder reactor at the test stage that will allow combustible nuclear residue to be recycled for use in weapons, will be destined for military use and will be exempt from the inspections. The treaty, which requires civilian and military facilities to be kept separate, means that India is given a specific category and legislation by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, India will be allowed to buy material and equipment for its civilian reactors.

India’s leaders have received the news as a godsend. After Mr Singh’s declarations in Parliament two days before President Bush’s arrival, in which he stressed that India would not submit its strategic nuclear programme to international guidelines, few expected any further concessions.

In fact, India is on its way to an energy crisis. Seventy-five percent of its consumption derives from hydrocarbons (natural gas and petroleum). With average annual economic growth at 8% and an increase in population that will soon rank it as the world’s leading demographic power, India needs to ensure its future energy needs. Given the circumstances, the civil nuclear power plants are not a way of helping to reduce the foreseeable deficit but they also offer the possibility of reducing the use of fossil fuels, limiting the gas emissions that aggravate the greenhouse effect. The international aspect of India’s requirements is also important. Given the competition for sources of energy between China and India, a greater degree of self-sufficiency would allow a reduction in oil demand and thus reduce the pressure on prices.

The plan has the backing of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose Director General, Mohammed El Baredei, has publicly expressed his support. The US Department of State, generally discreet in such matters, has released a formal statement welcoming the possibility of military cooperation. The UK, France, Germany and Russia are expected to end up participating in a productive way.

The proponents of this accord insist on India’s responsible behaviour as regards nuclear proliferation. Unlike China, Pakistan and North Korea, for more than 30 years India’s nuclear programme has followed the international directives regarding nuclear technology and it has not once proliferated to third countries. At the same time, India’s democratic credentials and its capacity to exercise restraint in its conflicts with neighbouring countries –in which it has generally been the victim and not the aggressor– make it a unique case that requires especial consideration, as recently indicated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an article published in the Washington Post, in which she affirmed that the ‘accord with India is unique because India is unique’.

On the other hand, those critical of the special treatment afforded to India have focused on consequences to be derived from the proposal’s implementation. They allege that it destroys the Non-proliferation Treaty’s integrity by violating the principles enshrined in its first article and that it weakens the commitments that have so far been achieved.

By creating an exception to the rule, the accord between India and the US establishes a precedent that questions the legitimacy of any efforts to attempt to influence Iran, particularly at a time when the international community is pressuring it, via the UN Security Council, to abandon its uranium enrichment programme. Furthermore, the separation of civilian and military facilities amounts to a mere pretence as long as India’s military nuclear programme remains free of inspections. But, above all, it creates the possibility of a nuclear weapons escalation in the region, involving China and Pakistan. This could encourage ‘difficult’ countries, such as Iran and North Korea, to pursue their goal of acquiring nuclear weapons, accusing the American administration, and by extension the West, of having double standards and applying them according to their own interests.

In any case, there is no doubt that if the accord is implemented it will give rise to crisis that will prove to be difficult to resolve and will lead to a period of uncertainty and changes in the rules governing international relations. The new proposal by the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, approved in February of this year, points in that direction. Under these guidelines the US will cooperate with countries that have advanced civil nuclear energy programmes (such as the UK, France, Japan and Russia) in order to share nuclear fuel with nations, such as India, that are in the process of developing their own programmes. Meanwhile, as several laws will have to be changed, it will take months of discussion and debate before the proposed accord can be approved by the US Congress.

Another factor to make India’s unique character is its cultural diversity. The fact that India is a multicultural and multi-religious country within the framework of a secular state, with a legendary tradition of tolerance towards other religions, makes it a ‘natural ally’ of the US. This conviction is particularly interesting as regards India’s new image and although it reflects the perception that Indians have traditionally had of themselves and indeed the perception that others have had of them, it is still interesting to see how it has been rediscovered in a world in which the relation between culture and religion is being reconsidered.

Pakistan Loses its Parity
President Bush’s visit to Pakistan has acquired a greater importance given the critical circumstances the country is experiencing. On the one hand, the tribal areas of Waziristan are undergoing a critical period due to the power struggle between moderate factions and the pro-Taliban Islamists. President Musharraf’s strategy of spreading state control to frontier areas that have so far been ruled by their own laws is dividing the population between those that, following their own tribal code, want to continue supporting the foreign militia, and those that support the central government. The resolution to the conflict, which would require dismantling the al-Qaeda network that operates in the area, directly affects the local power structures and the interests of its leaders, since the region’s socio-economic development will challenge the monopoly enjoyed by the local authorities. Mistakes such as Bajaur, where in January of this year US forces fired a missile against an al-Qaeda target and killed 18 civilians, do not help to project a favourable image of Musharraf in the region.

Things are not going much better in Baluchistan, where for the past few months the situation has deteriorated, with an increase in violent confrontations between nationalist insurgents and the security forces.

Musharraf’s popularity is at its lowest ebb. And the Danish cartoon crisis, which broke out in Pakistan later than elsewhere, added flames to an already heated situation. Since mid-February, and up until a couple of days before Bush’s arrival, there had been a steady succession of demonstrations and protests where anti-European sentiments gave way to anti-Americanism.

Precisely for these reasons, not having stopped over in Pakistan would have implied a withdrawal of trust in Musharraf. The US president’s presence, preceded by a terrorist attack against the US consulate in Karachi which killed four people, had a symbolic rather than a material value. With this gesture he sought to return the personal trust shown by Musharraff as an ally in the war on al-Qaeda. Other than that the meeting between the two leaders has brought about few changes. The US will continue to provide financial aid for education and development programmes and, without compromising Musharraf, has spoken in favour of restoring democratic elections.

In the case of Kashmir, President Bush has elected a middle way in order to avoid any direct implication, limiting himself to a diplomatic, mediating position, and leaving the parties concerned to resolve their differences. He announced his intentions in a speech given at the Asia Society a couple of days before embarking on his tour. This option, disappointing for a Pakistan that has traditionally sought the conflict’s internationalisation, will nevertheless allow it to better take advantage of its bilateral relations with India and to win the trust of Delhi, which has always been wary of any American involvement in the conflict.

Although the new situation has generated predictable discomfort, and although Islamabad has made public its wish of reaching an agreement similar to India’s, nothing indicates that it has any realistic hopes of reaching such an accord. In this regard various US authorities have repeatedly made statements to the effect that India and Pakistan have different interests and that, as such, their relations cannot be on equal terms. If anything has become evident during this trip, it is that India and Pakistan no longer have equal relations with the US. Nevertheless, this development in no way implies that Pakistan is no longer relevant as a regional ally, since the new stage in the relationship with India does not guarantee its unconditional loyalty. On the contrary, it must not be forgotten that in its international relations it has always shown a high level of independence as regards its decisions and its choice of allies. Its refusal to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty and its decision to maintain for more than thirty years its own nuclear programme is evidence of this. In this respect, Pakistan will continue to play an important role in America’s interests.

Conclusion: The agreement reached between India and the US is a historical watershed and is a clear bet on the future of a country that is already set to become an important player in the region. President Bush, by tipping the balance in favour of India while maintaining his commitments with Pakistan, has achieved an inclusive rapprochement without altering the balance of interests in South Asia.

Until recently, it was believed that US relations with India and Pakistan were a zero-sum game. It was understood that as the US administration grew closer to India, it would distance itself from Pakistan would, and vice versa. Both objectives seemed to be mutually incompatible and exclusive. That was the result of President Clinton’s visit in 2000, with an enormous contrast between his flamboyant visit to India and the brief stopover he made in Islamabad to briefly meet Musharraf. At the time, relations between the US and Pakistan were at one of their lowest moments. With Musharraf’s recent arrival to power following a bloodless coup d’état, and the Kargil crisis resolved in favour of India, everything pointed at a change in preferences. September 11 changed the scenario and put an end to the US’s gradual distancing from Pakistan. Overnight, Musharraf –who was becoming increasingly isolated from the West– became an indispensable ally in the war on terrorism and relations with the US were restored, bringing both money and cooperation. Since then the US administration has succeeded in skilfully managing its bilateral relations with the two rival states, alternating difficult concessions such as the sale of F-16 planes to Pakistan and nuclear cooperation with India. The key to this success resides in the fact that all the players have sought to maximise the strategic opportunities that have arisen, showing not only that India and Pakistan are not mutually exclusive options to the US but that they can also both benefit from this asymmetric triangular balance.

Eva Borreguero
Visiting Researcher, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University

Eva Borreguero

Written by Eva Borreguero