It has been argued by several knowledgeable persons that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should not have invested so much diplomatic capital and goodwill in persuading the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to open their gates for India. They have all argued that after the 2008 waiver we got ahead of the signing of the India-America civil nuclear agreement there is nothing more to be gained from the NSG membership. It does not make any difference to our nuclear trade, whether we are members of the NSG or not. Besides, it has also been argued that we unnecessarily humiliate ourselves by sitting outside the NSG, waiting for the gates to open.
WE should not shy away from accepting that when it came to the NSG membership, the Chinese stood by Pakistan and served its need to stall India, whereas Washington let New Delhi down. President Barack Obama’s support for India was not enough. There are only two conclusions – either he is weak and his writ does not run when it comes to India’s interests or that he was not fully behind the idea of our getting into the NSG.
But let us admit that our NSG membership bid this time was a test of our diplomatic strength. Even if ab initio, it is conceded that the extra effort was misplaced, still there is no denying the failure. The message from the world was very clear. All said and done, India’s rivals – let us not use the word enemies – like Pakistan and China were successful in thwarting its legitimate ambitions. All this happened while the friends watched helplessly.
In the end, all the 48- members of the NSG went along with the decision to defer a positive decision in India’s favour. To that extent, it is a failure of our friends like the Americans who could not get us past this opposition. As some critics have said, this time the ‘heavy-lifting’ that was done by the Americans in 2008 was missing. Indeed, any friendship or relationship is tested only when there is a crisis. We should not shy away from accepting that when it came to the NSG membership, the Chinese stood by Pakistan and served its need to stall India, whereas Washington let New Delhi down. President Barack Obama’s support for India was not enough. There are only two conclusions – either he is weak and his writ does not run when it comes to India’s interests or that he was not fully behind the idea of our getting into the NSG.
It is no consolation that the NSG membership for India would come in due course of time. The humiliation of rejection is too important to be ignored.
This brings out the larger question of our diplomacy in the context of Pakistan, China and America. We have been getting closer to America in the recent years, and this is certainly annoying both Islamabad and Beijing for different reasons. Islamabad is the original friend of Washington and now it watches with dismay as Prime Minister Modi frequently visits Washington and is on a first name basis with the American president. Similarly, Beijing looks at the India-America relationship in the context of Washington’s desire to strengthen India vis-à-vis China. While multilateralism may be a good idea in theory, it should be remembered that all such competitive relationships extract a price. So, howsoever we may argue the case, it will always dawn upon us that America’s friendly relationship does not come without a collateral damage.
In practical terms, we would not have been unaware of the Chinese opposition to our entry into the NSG, before the process actually began. In that situation, we should not have gone the whole distance without first having an assurance from Beijing. That we choose to win over President Xi Jinping just 24 hours before the issue was to be formally taken up at Seoul, and went round the whole world weeks ago, speaks volumes for the deficiencies in our strategy.
It has to be accepted that in the overall analysis we cannot afford a situation that brings us in conflict with Islamabad and Beijing. Both these countries have enough strength to damage our interests. They are our neighbours, and their proximity has its own implications. Our diplomatic success or failure would be gauged by the way we are able to deal with them. No doubt they are both difficult customers, but then your progress in international relations ultimately depends on the way you solve the difficult the questions.
It is in this context that Prime Minister Modi’s publicly accepted dilemma about Pakistan regarding the dual authority-civilian or military becomes relevant. Indeed, this should be seen as an opportunity to capitalise on this divide for the simple reason that this is Pakistan’s weakness and not strength. A Pakistan that is unsure about its approach towards India and is split between its military and political goals should be tackled on the dual planes. The problem so far has been that New Delhi has never been able to make Islamabad pay for all the harm that is done to India and Indian interests. We can also not forget that Pakistan enjoys America’s protection when it comes to issues like terrorism as Islamabad is Washington’s ally in Afghanistan, howsoever dubious its track record may be in this respect.
Besides, we may be keen to get into a tighter embrace with America but the warmth is clearly one-sided. The US senate did not lose any time in conveying this message as a day after prime minister Modi’s much appreciated address to a joint session of the Congress, the Senate failed to recognise India as a ‘global strategic and defence partner.” This also meant that the export control regulations could not be modified for India. There is not much purchase in drawing consolation from America’s recognition of India as a ‘defence partner’ since this is more of a business relationship and has relatively less to offer in terms of strategic advantages.
We cannot ignore that for all the similarities between India and America-democracy, open market and liberal values- Washington has always propped up Islamabad- militarily, economically and politically.
Whatever are the reasons, Islamabad has enjoyed support from Washington and Beijing and we have not been able to convince these two powers that this is course of action loaded with danger. After the worldwide growth of jihadi terror incubated in Pakistan with American funds this should have been easy. Yet so far it has been out of our reach. This is a bigger diplomatic failure than missing the NSG bus.