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Uncle Sam's devious plans

By Arindam Banerji
Last updated on: October 28, 2004 22:56 IST
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Here's where it all seems to have started.

'Last month, India's state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd announced that it sought government permission to sell Iran several upgraded Super Fledermaus air-defense radars. The Bush administration is opposing the radar transfer as it could be used to guard Iranian nuclear facilities.' (The Washington Times)

So -- Iran wants radars from us.

We Indians are in a deep economic give-n'-take with the Iranians at the present time -- so, what's the harm in a few radars?

In any case, we're not handing over weapons designs and technologies like the Pakistanis did -- so no big deal -- right?

Well -- not quite so fast. 

The US,  (through Israel) wants to maintain the inalienable right to 'take out' Iran's nuclear program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, instruments helpful for such a purpose, as bunker-busting bombs are already being transferred to Israel.

So selling such radars might just allow some reaction time to the Iranians -- in other words, Indian upgraded radars could be a threat to Uncle Sam's right to attack anyone at any time.

The fallout of all this is that we find two respected Indian scientists -- Dr V S Prasad and Dr Surender, both former chairman and managing directors, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd -- with no apparent or non-apparent connections to the Iranian weapons program, being made targets of US sanctions.

India-US tech treaty: A fool's bargain

'The sanctions on the scientists, which were listed in the Federal Register September 29, are largely symbolic. They bar the scientists from doing business with the US government or acquiring US goods requiring export licenses. Officials said the Indian scientists were involved in helping Iran's nuclear program,' said the Los Angeles Times report.

But the matter did not stop there -- the US intent wasn't quite so simple.

Their approach is a tried and true one -- rake up or make up some excuse to sanction a country or scientists and then force the country to negotiate away something important, to get rid of the sanctions -- after all, who would ever want to fight the 'might of Uncle Sam.

For a quick recap, the same approach was taken by the US when the J&K legislature and then the Indian parliament was attacked by the Pakistanis -- and India threatened to respond with military action.

Carnage in Kashmir: Exclusive Pictures

The US State Department quickly issued a spurious travel warning declaring travel to India 'unsafe' -- even though none of the signs of actual war were on the horizon and India, as the US then knew was just posturing, quite possibly with full knowledge of the State Department.

The implied threat of this advisory to the Indian economy which now is reasonably dependant on global connectivity was obvious.

This time too, the first step is quite similar -- a small slap at first -- that is, drag the names of the scientists through the mud -- as Bill Gertz of the Washington Times readily admits in his column: 'public identification of the scientists and their role in arms proliferation can be a deterrent that will make further exchanges more difficult.' 

This is done even though the scientists in question are essentially blameless.

As the Deccan Chronicle puts it: 'Shortly after the US imposed sanctions on the scientists, India had conveyed to it that Surendar had never visited Iran while in service or post retirement. It contended that Prasad initially visited Iran under the aegis of the IAEA technical cooperation programme and thereafter, he had provided consultancy on safety-related aspects connected with the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant which was under IAEA safeguards.'

So one scientist has never been to Iran, while the other has only worked with IAEA approved sites. But how do facts matter?

Trumped up charges are intended to be negotiation points. The target country, in this case -- India, is being forced to negotiate, just to get rid of such fake realities. This is a typical power play, and the US State Department is using it openly.

But then things get more interesting.

As a next step in this arm-twisting campaign: India was juxtaposed with the worst case of proliferation known in human history.

Pakistan's nuclear bazaar

As we now know, the A Q Khan network, read the Pakistani army, spread nuclear weapons technology over the last 15 years to every potential rogue state in the world including North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and quite possibly even Burma.

So, juxtaposition of India with this grand activity of the Pakistanis, even if ostensibly as part of a denial, achieves the obvious, as we see in multiple US articles: 'Officials compared the Indian scientists to Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan, who ran a covert network that provided weapons equipment, namely centrifuges, to Iran, Libya and North Korea. But official said the Indians' activities were not as damaging as Mr Khan's.'

Everybody obviously ends up asking -- 'Hai Ram!! Were the Indians really as bad as A Q Khan?.' Then, the answer can be whispered back -- 'Not quite, yaar' - result, everybody implicitly compares the two anyway.

The damage is done.

US handling 'privately' India's request to lift sanctions

But what if this does not work? Uncle Sam has other approaches lined up too.

As The Telegraph reports: 'In order to tighten the screws on India, officials have discreetly circulated speculation this week that more Indian entities would be sanctioned after the November 2 election for alleged ties with Iran.' 

Perhaps more openly, 'Officials said additional sanctions have been approved and could be imposed on India in the near future in response to other Indian transfers of weapons-related goods to Iran.'

Mild threats of further US sanctions, for no real crime that has been committed.

Note the neat reversal of  the burden of proof.  As external affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna put it: 'About the sanctions imposed on the two scientists, and that Washington was seeking "convincing proof" that they were not involved, he said, 'In fact, the burden of action was on the United States as we have already pointed out to them that the decision in regard to these entities is based on faulty evidence and must be revoked.'

Unfortunately, the media-mike in Uncle Sam's hand is much larger -- so, proof or no proof, wild accusations from the US override almost everything.

No involvement in Iran: Nuclear scientist

Just in case -- none of the above work -- other threats and sticks were also sharpened to beat up on India. So, US support for India's what-should-be-obvious inclusion as a permanent member of the UNSC 'could' also now become a matter of extreme negotiation, as in:

'United States will give its consent for it only if it signs the FMCT, CTBT and NPT, and diplomatic sources said this was conveyed to the Indian side by the visiting US assistant secretary of state, Christina Rocca. Rocca who is handling proliferation issues related to India, Pakistan and lately Iran will also link US export to India of dual-use technology and civilian nuclear reactors to an Indian commitment to roll back its military nuclear programme, and while diplomats said she would not make the proposal quite so directly, that would be the substance of it' --

So -- let's see here -- India completely defangs itself and places itself at the nuclear mercy of states like China and Pakistan -- then India could get the membership of the UNSC.

Some simple questions:

Do we see any non-nuclear state in the UNSC?

Do we expect any non-nuclear state to have the same powers within the UNSC as the big-five-nuclear-states, any time soon?

Although not directly related to Indian interactions with Iran or our nuclear program -- the supply of high-end weapons to Pakistan is supposed to be renewed -- this transfer also acts as a perfect stick to get India to make concessions.

Joshua Kucera, staff reporter in the Washington bureau of the prestigious Jane's Defense Weekly openly announces 'the weapons we're sending to Islamabad are targeted against India, not the Taliban.'

There have been some mild denials, but enough knowledgeable people in DC acknowledge the inevitability of big-time weapons transfers to Pakistan -- that is, weapons that are specifically targeted at India, are on their way.

'If the schedule of supply and details given in the Mission Plan are anything to go by, then the floodgates of American military-industry have opened. On the pipeline are more than $1.5 billion worth of military supplies over five years.

'Plus, numerous futuristic deals. Among the upcoming acquisitions that would make Indian military planners quite uncomfortable are F-16 fighters, upgraded P3C Orion long range maritime aircraft that can also be used as a strategic bomber, Harpoon missiles and a complete new generation of radars worth over $365 million.

But the biggest gainer would be the Army: a generational upgrade in almost its entire armory including top of the line attack helicopters, radars. What is increasingly frustrating to military planners in New Delhi is the fact that despite America's continued assertion of growing Indo-US defence cooperation, the Pentagon has not been so keen to give the latest equipment to India. An expert points out that US is still trying to push P3B Orion, which is a generation older than P3C, with Indian Navy.' -- The Times of India

So what does the US really want?

To understand this -- we really have to understand the two main groups of actors in this game.

The first group, called the non-proliferation ayatollahs, believe that only the big-5 and (this one in whispers) Israel are civilised enough to possess nuclear weapons.

As strategic analyst Bharat Karnad puts it -- 'From the Indian point of view, the trouble is not only that India is not regarded by the US as a legitimate nuclear weapon state with rights and privileges enjoyed by the five so-called Non-Proliferation Treaty-recognised nuclear powers. It is actually suspected as a possible source of contraband materials, skills and technologies.'

'These counter-proliferation ideologues are convinced that all it needs is for the US and the West to adhere steadfastly to the policy of carrot and stick -- promises of UN Security Council seat, technology transfers and scientific cooperation mixed with threats of economic sanctions, technology denials, and cut-offs in capital flow and, now, outsourcing contracts, for the Indian government to squeal and otherwise see the light.

'They are convinced moreover that sufficient pressure and arm-twisting laced with the usual blandishments, praise for India's 'responsible' nuclear state behaviour, and a few crumbs -- read technology India can buy elsewhere -- thrown New Delhi's way, will induce the Indian political leadership to edge into the Non-Proliferation Treaty net by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, accepting missile defence (which will lead to demands to freeze the development of the nuclear deterrent with the argument that with the ability to neutralise nuclear-tipped missiles there is no need to enhance the Indian nuclear force), and joining the sovereignty-sapping Proliferation Security Initiative (that will make India's internal waters, territorial seas, shipping on the high seas, aircraft, ports and airports open to intrusive inspections at any time).'

The second group are the neo-cons. These guys want to reshape the Middle-East, and are the same ones who gleefully encouraged the incessant bombings of Iraqi civilians on the basis of unsubstantiated rumors about Iraqi WMDs.

These guys want to target Iran next. 

First Afghanistan, then Iraq and now Iran -- so, step 1 is to stop collaborations from countries that trade with and provide any kinds of weapons technologies -- even defensive ones -- to Iran.

These guys would like nothing more than to delve into the depths of exactly what Iran is getting from India.

Hence, the 'Bush administration officials who have been briefing reporters this week about the possibility of letting Prasad and Surendar off the hook plainly say their offer is conditional: India must provide irrefutable proof that they were not involved in any A Q Khan-type of shenanigans with Tehran. One American official with experience of how things are done in New Delhi told this correspondent: "These guys (Prasad and Surendar) are no regular guys. They have clout in Delhi. They will do the job of arm-twisting there into giving us the dope we are looking for."'

K P Nayar of The Telegraph asks the unavoidable question: What happens if India does give in and meet these US demands?

'The catch there is that once India takes this bait and starts sharing information with the Americans, administration officials here will keep insisting that the proof provided to them is inconclusive and that more information is needed. Once the process of sharing information with the Americans is set in motion, India will also not be in control of its media fallout.'

'On any day. the State Department's spokesman can get up on his podium and get international media attention on the issue by saying that New Delhi has failed to provide proof of the innocence of the two men. Typically, they will keep digging until they can get everything they are seeking about Indo-Iranian relations. All the while, they will provide no guarantees that the two Indian scientists will be relieved of the sanctions.'

Acceding to the non-proliferation ayatollahs have even more devastating consequences.  

As Karnad puts it: 'India will soon emerge as Pakistan has done, if as a bit more glorified American appendage and camp-follower. Vajpayee in his day and now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have justified India's diffidence and passivity on the nuclear front in terms of India being a "responsible" nuclear power, which is only another way of hewing to the American standards set by the US to serve its interests. In doing so, the Indian government should be aware that it is behaving irresponsibly towards the long-term national security interests of the country.'

Next: Stop being a wimp State!

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Arindam Banerji