Monday, August 31, 2015
Instead of a great victory, 1965 war should be remembered for lessons not learnt
By Pravin Sawhney
The 1965 war between India and Pakistan was a political and military stalemate. Political because the Tashkent declaration after the war sought to settle the immediate war issues rather than the reason behind the war: Kashmir. Military because the ceasefire line formed after the 1947-49 war remained intact without change; proof that neither side had won the war.
According to the western army commander responsible for the entire war front, Lt Gen. Harbakhsh Singh (in his book, War Despatches), ‘With the exception of the Hajipir offensive, none of the remaining thrusts were pushed to a successful conclusion… Most of our offensive actions fizzled out into a series of stalemates without achieving decisive results.’
One such offensive that spoke of India’s senior leadership’s incompetence and junior leadership’s initiative happened on 7 September 1965 when leading Infantry column (3 Jat) of the Indian Army reached the outskirts of Lahore and asked for reinforcements to press ahead. While tasked to occupy the east bank of Ichhogil canal (Pakistan Army’s obstacle system for defence of Lahore), they managed to cross the canal and reached the gates of Lahore.
Both the Pakistan and the Indian Army were shell-shocked. The Pakistan Army because it could not conceive this scenario; heavy strafing by the Pakistan Air Force was ordered to save face. The Indian Army senior leadership was equally dumbstruck by the initiative of the junior leadership, as it had not catered for such a run-away success. Reaching Lahore was unimaginable and outside the script. What followed was dithering, piecemeal reinforcements, tardy cooperation with the Indian Air Force and finally orders by the brigade commander for the Indian column to withdraw.
Yet another example of India’s weak leadership was in the Chhamb sector where the Pakistan Army made a major irregular forces’ thrust supported by heavy artillery fire on August 14. The bombardment cost the life of the 191 infantry brigade commander, Brigadier B.F. Master. While the terrorists’ ingress was contained, the Indian leadership failed to appreciate the terrain advantages vis-à-vis India in this sector, and the fact that Pakistan’s armoured formation was close at hand in Sialkot and Kharian. Despite this, Indian leadership did not assess Chhamb to be a major war arena, only to be surprised when the Pakistani armour thrust came here during Operation Grand Slam on 1 September. The newly raised and inducted India’s 10 division lost Chhamb and just about managed to save the Akhnoor bridge, the sole communication link to Jammu.
Thus, India’s overall war effort showed numerous shortcomings: poor strategic and operational intelligence, indecisive higher defence organisation, reactive thinking, inability to exploit operational opportunities, lack of directive style of command (where junior leadership are allowed to take initiatives), and little agreement between the army and the air force. All these weaknesses exist even today with each defence service having its own doctrine and ideas about how to defend territory.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s 1965 proactive war aim was to complete the unfinished agenda of the 1947-49 war: Annex Kashmir. This was to be done in three phases, one in Gujarat and two in Kashmir. The Gujarat phase was conceived by the Pakistan supremo, President General Ayub Khan to both bring territorial disputes between India and Pakistan into international limelight and to test the new weapon systems acquired from the US after Pakistan joined the US-led South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO).
Taking advantage of its territorial claims in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, the Pakistan army took advantage of India’s laxity of not guarding the disputed area (a similar mistake by India led to the 1999 Kargil conflict). While India’s timely reaction minimised the damage, the Pakistan Army could test its new weapons. Under the aegis of the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, the two sides, both members of the Commonwealth, amidst fanfare and bonhomie signed the Kutch agreement in July 1965 and agreed to restore the status quo ante as on 1 January 1965. This set the stage for the war in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s 1965 Kashmir war-plan followed the 1947-49 script: irregulars followed by regulars. Originally, the war was meant to be limited to Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistan Army raised a guerrilla force which was led by regular officers under the overall command of Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik. Numbering about 30,000, and called the Gibraltar Force, it was divided into columns which were to infiltrate into Kashmir through various ingress routes. For example, Salauddin column with Srinagar as its objective was meant to capture the Srinagar airfield and the radio station. They were then to invite Pakistan publicly to liberate Kashmir. Heeding the call, the Pakistan Army would attack with tanks and artillery across the southern end of the LC (called working boundary by Pakistan), which was semi-mountainous and plain and cut-off Jammu from the mainland. The plan was based on two simple principles of war: surprise and initiative.
The infiltrations started on August 8, the day Kashmir was celebrating the festival of Sufi Pir Dastgir. The same week, crowds were to assemble in Srinagar to mark the anniversary of the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953. Pakistan’s guerrilla force was to mingle with the crowds and incite them to raise anti-India slogans. Instead, the people, finding foreigners amongst them handed them to the police. Other infiltrating columns met with similar fate. Undeterred by the failure of his initial plan, Ayub Khan went ahead with the second act and launched Operation Grand Slam on 1 September 1965 in Chhamb-Akhnoor sector. India, its intelligence agencies and the military were caught napping.
What saved embarrassment for India was the support of the people of Kashmir, and Prime Minister Shastri’s go ahead to the army to broaden the war beyond the J&K theatre to relieve pressure from Pakistan’s point of choosing. Ayub Khan had not bargained for this. While losing Chhamb, the Indian Army opened the Punjab front which broadened the war.
The 22-day war between India and Pakistan in 1965 went wrong for the Pakistani ruler, Ayub Khan, who started it all, because his critical assumptions did not stay course. Fought over Kashmir, to grab what Pakistan could not in 1947-49, Ayub Khan presumed that the people of Kashmir would welcome the Pakistani intruders. They did not. Instead, they helped Indian security forces nab the outsiders. Then, China did not go the whole hog in opening the second front against India; it simply made a few noises. Little known to Pakistan, China had been warned of dire consequences by the United States if it took advantage of the war. Moreover, in spite of the 1962 war debacle, the Indian Army at tactical levels rose like a phoenix to meet the Pakistani challenge. And last, but not the least, Ayub Khan calculated that in the absence of the towering presence of Nehru, his little known successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri would surrender on Kashmir.
The opposite happened; Shastri stood ground on Kashmir and let the military run the operations. In an exceptional saga of grit and determination, Haji Pir was captured by 68 Infantry brigade under Brigadier Zorawar Bakshi. Unfortunately, after the ceasefire, Shastri, in a goodwill gesture towards Pakistan, returned it at the post-war Tashkent summit with Ayub Khan.
How did the 1965 war fare? The honours were equally shared by the two sides. Pakistan lost territory in Jammu and Kashmir, while India lost land in Khem-Karan and Chhamb. Prime Minister Shastri, by supporting the military effort, helped the army recover some honour lost in the 1962 war. However, his giving away of Haji Pir to the wily Ayub Khan showed that India continued to decide its border policy without any say from the military, which is meant to defend it.
Learning the right lessons from the war, the Pakistan Army has today turned the tables on the Indian military. With an insurgency raging in Kashmir since 1990, with its usual ups and downs, the Indian Army is more worried about the safety of its internal lines of communication (which according to the present Director General Military Operations, Lt General Subrata Saha is the theatre’s centre of gravity) in case of a war with Pakistan. The unrelenting proxy war by Pakistan has left the Indian Army enervated and fatigued with little time, energy, resources, and even inclination for training for conventional war. This explains Indian Army’s precariously depleted war wastage reserves since years, lack of systemic acquisitions and modernisation.
Moreover, China as a transformed nation with credible military power in all domains of war can no longer be dictated to by the US or any other power. With the signing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which runs along three axis — eastern, central and western — from the Karakoram Pass to Gwadar and Karachi, Pakistan’s military power has been enhanced substantially in four ways. One, the Pakistan military’s operational sustenance is, at present, more than India’s, implying the Pakistan military would be able to fight a long duration conventional war.
Two, growing interoperability between the Pakistan military and the PLA would help Pakistan share China’s assets in space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains as well its ballistic and cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Three, the fibre optic communications link between the PLA and the Pakistan Army would ensure timely interaction between the two obviating the need for Pakistani generals to travel to Beijing (as General Pervez Musharraf did during the Kargil conflict) in case of a crisis with India. And four, the acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons has put paid to any possibility of the Indian military taking the war inside Pakistan across the international border like in 1965.
Given this, instead of merely celebrating the heroism and brilliant tactical battles fought by young officers and men, India should introspect to understand Pakistan’s intentions on Kashmir, especially when the Pakistan Army still celebrates the 1965 war as Pakistan Defence Day.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
India-Pak NSA level talks should not be reduced to scoring points
By Pravin Sawhney
Two realities should never be lost sight off when considering relations between India and Pakistan. First, the power balance between the civil and military in Pakistan will always be heavily tilted in favor of General Headquarters, Rawalpindi whatever the dispensation in Islamabad. And second, the Pakistan Army will never give up its support to cross border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as long as the Line of Control exists in its present form.
Irrespective of the political mandate with a civil government in Pakistan, the Pakistan army will continue to dominate India policy as it holds two aces it would never give up: nuclear weapons and ownership of Kashmir resolution. Pakistan’s growing geopolitical clout build with the support of the United States and China (for different reasons) is pivoted upon its possession of nuclear weapons. Without the latter, it would have been impossible for Pakistan to spread its strategic wings on the basis of religious identify even in the Middle East. Today, Pakistan’s geopolitical importance is understood by Russia, Central Asian Republics and of course within the turbulent Middle East torn asunder by power play between Saudis and Iran.
On terrorism, it is unrealistic to expect the Pakistan Army to give up both its low cost bleeding of India and blunting of the Indian Army’s fighting capabilities. The Pakistan Army assumed ownership of the Kashmir agenda after the 1947-49 war with India when Karachi, the civilian capital of the new born nation, proved incompetent to conceive and fight the 18-month war. It fell on Rawalpindi to fulfil the dream of the Quaid-e-Azam to integrate Kashmir with Pakistan.
Learning lessons from the first Kashmir war after Independence, the Pakistan Army used the strategy of a two-prong assault — irregulars followed by regular army — in the 1965 war. It did not lose the war, but the two-prong strategy misfired as the people of the Valley showed more faith in India than Pakistan. Once the insurgency erupted in the Valley in 1990, the Pakistan Army, having perfected the low cost war in Afghanistan, shifted its sights to J&K. Since then, it has gained aplenty by making the Indian Army unfit for conventional war.
Thus, on the one hand, it has given the Pakistan Army time, energy and resources to plug the operational gaps and even get a leg-up along the military line in J&K. On the other hand, it manages to compel India to come back for bilateral talks. If the Pakistan Army were to stop cross-border terrorism, India, which desires a status quo in J&K, would have little reason to talk with Pakistan over Kashmir. Moreover, the friends of Pakistan, in the present case Russia, would not have nudged India to start talks with Pakistan.
Given these truisms, it is difficult to understand how talks between the two National Security Advisors slated for August 23 in New Delhi would lead meaningfully anywhere with divergent core interests. Pakistan’s NSA, Sartaj Aziz has made it clear that the Kashmir resolution would be his focus. India, under the BJP government, is fixated on terrorism with talks on Kashmir resolution being anathema to it. Moreover, the NSA-level talks are being held when Pakistan scores well, both on strategic clout and military capabilities.
Monday, August 10, 2015
Mutual distrust continues to haunt the 10-year-old Indo-US nuclear deal
By Pravin Sawhney
Sanjaya Baru (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s media advisor) wondered why on the 10th anniversary of 18 July 2005 nuclear deal there was little celebration in Delhi when in the US, the Carnegie Endowment think-tank brought together bipartisan supporters of the deal including US vice president Joe Biden to mark the momentous occasion which resulted in strategic partnership between India and the US. He pointed out that few in India were clear about the deal (technical aspects), and still fewer understood a transactional relationship which is what the deal was about.
Meanwhile, Ashley J. Tellis, an astute US commentator intimately involved in the post-deal negotiations believes that ‘the nuclear deal transformed India overnight from being a target of determined US non-proliferation policy to becoming a partner in America’s larger geo-political endeavours.’
Was it really so considering geo-political partnerships require strategic trust? Ironically, India had reached out to the US before and after 1998 nuclear tests to be rebuffed with grand brush-off which, not coincidently, saw the unholy partnership between China and Pakistan come out of the closet. This generated vast distrust in the India-US bilateral relationship which the deal, given its unrealisable agenda and counter-productive pace, brought out into the open.
The roots of the nuclear deal go to India’s 1998 nuclear tests. When the Vajpayee government came to power, US President Bill Clinton sent commerce secretary and friend, Bill Richardson to India. His agenda was to find out if the BJP-led government would do the nuclear tests as committed in their election manifesto. Richardson got assurances at the highest level that decision for nuclear tests would depend upon the recommendations of the first-ever Strategic Defence Review. Prime Minister Vajpayee, however, encouraged Richardson to meet Jaswant Singh (his senior advisor on foreign and defence affairs) ‘in private’ according to Strobe Talbott’s book, Engaging India.
Jaswant Singh went alone to meet the Richardson team at the residence of the US ambassador to India. His mission: to tell them that ‘he was under instructions from Vajpayee to serve as a discreet — and if necessary, secret — channel to Washington, to be used for anything sensitive that the US leadership wished to convey to the Prime Minister.’ India was clearly proposing geopolitical partnership to the US. Jaswant Singh believed that close geopolitical ties with the US would help India transform its status from a balancing to a leading power.
Jaswant Singh — a rare politician in India who understood geopolitics — was aware of two strategic issues where understanding with the US was necessary. The first was India’s need for high technology, which since 1984 (the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on science and technology) had been a recurring talking point between the two counties. The second issue concerned China. In his book, Defending India published soon after the tests, he wrote, ‘from the early fifties, when Indian policy helped an emerging China, to now when the century ends, a relationship of equals no longer obtains. Clearly, India’s management of Sino-Indian relations has been a failure and the nation continues to pay the price.’
Immediately after the tests, unsure of how he would be received by an angry Clinton administration, Jaswant Singh got in touch with American expert, George Perkovich to explore possibility of his meetings at the US State Department. Without waiting to hear from the US administration, Jaswant Singh reached the US on 6 June 1998 where in a series of media interactions he explained India’s viewpoint — how the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the imminent universal acceptance of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) had forced India to safeguard its security interests. This, Jaswant Singh did after the Clinton administration had made Prime Minister Vajpayee’s letter to President Clinton where he had cited China as the main reason for conducting the May 1998 nuclear tests public.
If the US felt let down by India’s nuclear tests, the disclosure of Vajpayee’s letter by the US President was seen as a snub of India’s geopolitical aspirations. With India’s strategic intent out into the open, China decided to play hard ball: restrict India’s geopolitical ambitions through its proxy Pakistan while ensuring that India-US ties did not get too cosy for its comfort.
Jaswant Singh’s meeting with Richardson had not helped. What is more, within days of the test, Clinton dispatched secretary of state, Madeleine Albright to a specially convened US Security Council session where China held the (rotatory) chair. According to Talbott, the US team ‘spent hours talking the Chinese out of their preference for more India-bashing and harsher demands in the document.’ The drafted UN 1172 Security Council resolution of 6 June 1998 made impossible demand — that India and Pakistan join NPT as non-nuclear weapons states — and Kashmir as the likely flashpoint found mention in a UN resolution for first time after the 1972 Simla Agreement. Hereafter, UN 1172 resolution became China’s stick to beat India with. Most recently, China on 3 June 2015 said that ‘the Nuclear Suppliers Group regarded NPT status as a crucial standard to accept new member state (referring to India and Pakistan).
To take the nuclear deal story forward, once tempers cooled in Washington and sense prevailed that the nuclear genie could not be put back in the bottle, Jaswant Singh and his US interlocutor Strobe Talbott ‘met fourteen times at ten locations in seven countries on three continents’ (as Talbott put it) to come to an understanding. These interactions helped in formulation of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) announced on 13 January 2004 between Prime Minister Vajpayee and US President George W. Bush.
The NSSP covered three strategic areas, namely, civilian space programme, civilian nuclear activities and high-technology trade as well as dialogue on missile defence. Trade in defence hardware was deliberately not included in NSSP, perhaps because it was felt that trade in weapon platforms should follow trade in technology. This was meant to ensure that enough strategic trust is build before India purchased war-fighting platforms which would need uninterrupted supply of spares. India learned this lesson from US’ close ties with Pakistan where after the Pressler Amendment, the US refused delivery of F-16 aircraft for which money was already paid.
The NSSP followed the High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) — meant for commercial trade in high technology for civilian use — established between the two countries in November 2002. According to the then US undersecretary of commerce, Kenneth Juster (FORCE, July 2004), ‘in some respects, the NSSP builds and expands upon the work being done in the HTCG. The HTCG set up a framework for reviewing and analysing how technology commerce between the US and India could be expanded across a broad range of categories, including information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and defence technology.’
Thus, the NSSP, a process capable of fulfilling India’s need of high technology and US’ need of tightening of Indian laws for better export controls (a non-proliferation requirement) was meant to, in a subtle progressive manner, help India and the US come geopolitically closer without ruffling China.
The slow movement on NSSP did not diminish its importance. According to the then US ambassador, David Mulford (FORCE, October 2004), ‘India is the only country with which the United States has Next Steps in Strategic Partnership initiative,’ adding, ‘a key strategic relationship has to be built into a comprehensive relationship. Strategic, as you know, applies to a particular type of relationship. This relationship has been defined as the NSSP initiative.’ Simply put, the US’ focus was to build a comprehensive bilateral relationship of which the NSSP and military cooperation were two important components. This approach was adopted to reduce trust deficit needed for strengthening the bilateral relationship.
Given the high level of distrust, especially on the India side which felt let down in the aftermath of the tests, the NSSP was possibly the best approach for the relationship to grow. This was confirmed by the then NSA, Brajesh Mishra, who was less trusting of the US than Jaswant Singh. According to Mishra (FORCE, August 2005), ‘there were three phases in NSSP. In general terms there was a difference of opinion in what they (the US) were looking and what we were looking. At the end of NSSP, we were looking at lifting up of all restrictions on India’s civilian nuclear and space programme. This is not what they had in mind. They were looking at end-use verification and fissile material. So when phase one was over, they said that a new phase has begun. What they meant (in that) is a promise to work with Congress and their allies in Nuclear Suppliers Group.’
Given India’s stated minimum credible deterrence, which Mishra said ‘is a flexible concept’, ‘the NDA (Vajpayee) government had offered to put a few of our existing nuclear reactors under safeguards. The idea was that from the unsafeguarded reactors there would be enough fissile material for India’s minimum credible programme. We have 14 reactors in operation and about nine under (various stages of) construction (this was in August 2005). I would have said that all future reactors either built by us or with others’ cooperation will be put under safeguard. This way we would have had 10 to 11 unsafeguarded reactors. But this was not acceptable to the US.’
Just when the two sides started work on phase two of NSSP, the Vajpayee government was voted out of power. The incoming Manmohan Singh government with J.N. Dixit as the NSA while taking ownership of the NSSP, initiated talks with the Bush administration on phase two of the NSSP in September 2004. However, given the US Presidential elections, it was left to the second Bush administration to move the bilateral dialogue forward.
When the second Bush administration entered office, two major changes transformed the on-going dialogue between India and the US: Condoleezza Rice, a Bush family friend was elevated from the post of NSA to secretary of state, and on the sudden demise of Dixit, India got a new NSA, M.K. Narayanan, a former intelligence officer who was unaware of NSSP’s technical nuances. It was in such milieu that Rice, on her first oversees tour arrived in Delhi on 16 March 2005, and took the Indian dispensation by storm by her declaration that the US would help India become a major power.
There was excitement in Delhi and alarm in Islamabad and Beijing. While India had harboured ambitions of becoming a major power, it found it hard to believe that the foremost power of the time, while acknowledging India’s potential, had promised to help it achieve glory. Pakistan was worried that by de-hyphenating it from India the US might lose strategic interest in it. And China saw its containment in the partnership between India and the US.
After Rice’s spectacular announcement in Delhi, the NSSP was ended abruptly and talks on the nuclear deal — Rice brainchild — began. In her book, No Higher Honour, Rice writes, ‘The key from our point of view was to get India within the IAEA… better to have India in the tent in some fashion, even if New Delhi could not formally sign the NPT… at least, new construction of (Indian) reactors would be under safeguard. India already had more than enough nuclear material for its military programme. It needed help on the civilian side and we needed the strategic breakthrough with this emerging, democratic power.’
Rice’s trick had worked. The nuclear deal offered by her was too tempting for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to let it go easily. While suggesting nothing more substantive than the NSSP, the nuclear deal by its over-reach, all-inclusiveness, fast pace and pretence of equality between India and the US was probably a dishonest proposition. According to the deal, India was to place certain numbers of its nuclear reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In return, the US promised to end India’s nuclear apartheid by acknowledging it as a nuclear weapons power, agreed India have access to high and dual-use technologies, and offered to cooperate on civilian nuclear energy to meet India’s growing energy demands.
It seemed that India would get the moon: it would become a nuclear weapons power (with freedom to maintain its credible minimum deterrence); be free to decide on more indigenous nuclear reactors for strategic purposes; be part of the global restricted technology cartels, namely, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement (all led by the US); maintain strategic autonomy implying independent foreign policy; not be clubbed with Pakistan; be free to buy nuclear fuel (Uranium), run the nuclear closed fuel cycle (including reprocessing and subsequently the indigenous three-stage Thorium cycle), and purchase state-of-art nuclear reactors and Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technologies for its energy needs. It appeared to be a win-win situation for India.
In reality, from the US perspective, the deal was about non-proliferation by coercing India to identify maximum numbers of its rectors for civilian use, getting India to de facto sign the CTBT even when the US Senate had rejected it, getting India’s foreign policy closely aligned with that of the US, doing commerce in civil nuclear reactors and defence (through a 10-year Defence Framework signed separately but highlighted in the 18 July 2005 framework document), and eventually having India as a junior strategic partner if not junior ally in the Asia-Pacific region.
What Mishra has foreseen seemed to come true. Going public within days of the 18 July 2005 framework document (joint statement with the nuclear deal) being signed in Washington, Mishra said (FORCE, August 2005), ‘My view is that if you offer to identify and separate the civilian and military nuclear facilities and programmes, it will have long term national security impacts.’
Having flown across half the globe, Prime Minister Manmohan had a similar apprehension sitting in Washington’s Willard hotel, a block away from the White House on 17 July 2005 night when he was to sign the framework document which was meant to transform the bilateral relationship next day. He suddenly developed cold feet and according to Rice refused to meet her since he felt ‘he cannot sell (the deal) it in New Delhi.’ Reason: the US had shifted the goalpost and wanted India to ‘keep just two or three reactors outside safeguard’, India’s then NSA, Narayanan recently disclosed on the 10th anniversary of the deal.
While Rice managed to coax the Indian Prime Minister to sign the framework document, the hard work for India as the junior partner had just begun. While the excruciatingly long process with dramatic highs and lows — on account of US’ constant shifting of goalposts and meeting its global non-proliferation obligations which were contrary to the nuclear deal promises — which concluded on 10 October 2008 has been amply documented, a few instances indicative of the US duplicitousness deserve highlighting.
Having signed the framework document, Manmohan Singh returned home to enormous scepticism strewn across India. The Congress President Sonia Gandhi — the real power centre — and numerous Congress MPs were unsure about the deal. The Left parties — coalition partners of the government — were upset about closer ties with the US and wanted more transparency on the bilateral relationship. The opposition, led by the BJP, declared the framework document a sell out to the US. And, the diplomats and scientists were deeply divided on the strategic implications of the deal. In such a domestically charged atmosphere, US President Bush arrived on 2 March 2006 in Delhi to settle the deal’s separation plan — which reactors to come under safeguards and which would not. This turned out to be an acrimonious bilateral exercise as according to the framework document, India was to unilateraly take this decision.
Sanjaya Baru says in his book, The Accidental Prime Minister, ‘The Indian side still (as Manmohan Singh had insisted before signing the 18 July 2005 framework document) wanted a 14:8 division between civilian and military reactors, while the American side had not budged from its position of 18:4. Moreover, the Indian side was keen on keeping the two research reactors out of the IAEA safeguards.’ While the US ultimately relented to the Indian position — India would place 14 of its nuclear reactors under IAEA safeguards by 2014 —, it appeared a pyrrhic victory.
When Manmohan Singh was informing the nation that with the separation plan, only 65 per cent of Indian reactors would be under safeguards, the US’ main interlocutor, Nicholas Burns told the media that ‘in one generation 90 per cent of Indian reactors would be under safeguards’. Burns was clearly hinting that India’s right to decide future indigenous reactors for strategic purposes as agreed to in the deal would be opposed by the US.
India was thus being subjected to restricted fissile material stocks even before the world had agreed to the terms of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. This is not all. The India-specific Additional Protocol that India signed with the IAEA was extremely intrusive and could through technical means monitor progress of the unsafeguarded reactors. Moreover, the US relented on keeping India’s research reactors out of safeguards because they have yet not harnessed the indigenous three-stage Thorium cycle (example of technology over-reach). Things might change in the future.
Interestingly, while Bush was pushing India’s case for exemption from the global restrictive regimes (NSG for waiver to India to do nuclear commercial trade) and the US Congress, the US, under its global commitment, was also urging the NSG to review its export control rules to check proliferation. Finally, in July 2011, the NSG announced its new export norms: only those nations which had signed the NPT would be eligible for ENR technologies. This came as a bombshell for India. While allowed to trade with the NSG, India would be denied reprocessing and enrichment technologies needed for utilisation of closed fuel cycle because it had not signed the NPT.
In simple terms, while India could buy nuclear fuel from the world, it could not use it fully as without reprocessing technologies it would be unable to use the nuclear waste for energy production. This was when, as scientists protested, India has its own limited reprocessing capabilities and is not entirely bereft of them.
Regarding India’s quest for membership of the NSG — the club which works on consensus principle — China has (July 2015) made it clear that signing of the NPT would be essential for new member states. What China has left unsaid is that India could become NSG member if it signs the NPT under US 1172 article as non-nuclear weapon state.
Even as the non-proliferation noose was being tightened on India (through signing of India-specific Additional Protocol with the IAEA, shifting US goalposts by re-interpretation of the separation plan and NSG export guidelines placing NPT signing benchmark), there was bilateral disagreement over how much India was obliged to align with US’ security concerns. India said that it would abide by the bilateral 123 agreement that it has signed with the US, while the US insisted on giving precedence to its own domestic law, the Henry J. Hyde Act of 2006 (essential for the US administration to sign the 123 agreement) which required India to respect US’ security agenda. This resulted in India’s flip-flop Iran policy as Delhi was torn asunder between its relationship with the US and the need for bilateral strategic ties with Tehran.
If this was not enough, two other contentious issues propped up: US’s disappointment over defence ties with India, and India’s 2010 Nuclear Liability Law. While the bilateral Defence Framework was signed in April 2005, three months before the July 2005 framework agreement, it got mentioned under the framework agreement. For this reason, the powerful US defence lobby which had played a major role in the passage of the nuclear deal through the US Congress expected, in a transactional fashion, to be rewarded. When none of the two US platforms which had participated in the over USD 40 billion Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition made it into the final in beginning 2012, numerous US Congressmen and leading analysts accused India of betrayal. A lot of pressure was put on New Delhi to consider another US platform — the F-35 aircraft — for the IAF.
Similarly, the Indian 2010 Nuclear Liability Law was found unacceptable to the US which argued that in the event of an accident, the liability, as per global norms, should be of the operator. Thus, when Manmohan Singh’s term in office ended in May 2014, few mentioned the nuclear deal as the outgoing government’s achievement. Those who did obfuscated matters by arguing the nuclear deal as a prime reason for overall improved ties between India and US. The truth remained that both the strategic and commercial aspects of the nuclear deal had remained unfulfilled. Nuclear commerce, which India had touted as the key reason for the deal, had not started. And, India, despite having accepted non-proliferation measures, namely, signing the Additional Protocol with the IAEA and undertaking the separation plan, had not operationalised the deal: the promised NSG waiver fell short of expectations. While India could do nuclear fuel commerce, there remains uncertainty about India getting reprocessing technologies to recycle spent fuel. Moreover, the high and dual-use technologies that were promised to India under the deal have not come; the HTCG had done more for bilateral trade in these areas.
Speaking at the Hindustan Times summit in Delhi on 7 December 2013, the architect of the nuclear deal, Condoleezza Rice admitted that, ‘the technology cooperation (with India) was tied to the Indo-US nuclear deal.’ While the US got the deal it wanted, India is still to get the technology it was promised under the NSSP, well before the deal happened.
Instead of an objective analysis of the nuclear deal, the Modi government on assuming power in May 2014, went along with the popular perception that the deal had transformed relations between India and the US. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his US visit in September 2014, India, on 22 June 2014 ratified the Additional Protocol signed (on 15 March 2009) with the IAEA, signalling its intention to bring the deal to closure so that nuclear commerce with the US could commence. Between September 2014 and the visit of US President Barack Obama as the chief guest on India Republic Day on 26 January 2015, ‘experts, legal and nuclear, from both countries sat down and worked out an understanding (on India’s Nuclear Liability Law),’ as the US ambassador in India Richard Verma put it. It is another matter whether it would be acceptable to the business community in both countries.
Notwithstanding epithets like ‘natural allies’ used by Vajpayee for Indo-US ties, ‘strategic partnership’ cited by Manmohan Singh and the recent ‘strategic plus partnership’ by US ambassador in India, Richard Verma, the spectre of mutual distrust has not gone away. Instead of a gradual mutual understanding, which is what the NSSP was about, the Indo-US nuclear deal took the big leap into the unknown.