India, US upbeat over Bush visit

Apart from sealing a historic nuclear deal, US President George Bush’s first visit to India is expected to boost trade ties and rewrite strategic relations between the world’s two role-model democracies.

The two leaders pledged to work together
The two leaders pledged to work together

The official mood over the visit that began on Wednesday is upbeat; but there are concerns on both sides, not just about the nuclear deal, but also about the noisy protests that greeted the American president.


“We have an ambitious agenda with India. Our agenda is also practical,” Bush had told Asia Society in Washington before his departure.


The two nations, the president said, would “work together to make our world safer and more prosperous by fighting terrorism, advancing democracy, expanding free and fair trade and meeting our common energy needs in a responsible way.”

Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, told the country’s parliament ahead of the visit that he hoped for “new opportunities and possibilities for promoting (India’s) energy security and pathways to accelerated social and economic development.”

India’s booming economy, the prime minister said, has put it on a more “equal footing to work with the US” than before.


Over the last three years, investment banks have been predicting a great economic future for India with a Goldman Sachs forecast saying it would be the world’s most powerful economy by 2032.


The protesters described B ush as the enemy of humanity

The protesters described B ush as
the enemy of humanity

However, the government’s left allies, leading a 100-member, multi-party parliamentary block, strongly oppose close ties between India and the US, and welcomed Bush with 20,000-strong protest rally in the Indian capital.


“Bush is not welcome in India,”  D. Raja, a law-maker from the Communist Party of India told Aljazeera.


“The prime minister has indicatetd hat our opposition to Bush and America’s imperialist policies is embarrassing for his government; but we have to show that the American president is not welcome in India.


“Under Bush’s leadership, America is dictating its foreign and economic policies to India, which amounts to an outrageous interference in our internal affairs,” he said.


Jamat-e-Ulema Hind, an influential Muslim outfit, staged a 50,000 strong anti-Bush rally on the day of the president’s arrival.


The spokesmen of the outfit described Bush as the “enemy of humanity” and “killer of innocents” over America’s military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Economic benefits


India’s 300-million strong middle class is hooked on US products  

India’s 300-million strong middle
class is hooked on US products  

However, the economic significance of the Bush visit has got buried under the high-pitched political protests and stiff opposition from Indian scientists to the nuclear deal.


With its 300-million middle class population hooked on to American food and consumer products, India is an attractive market for the US.


Last year, US exports to India grew by more than 30% with Air India ordering 68 planes from American Boeing worth $11 billion, the single largest order in Indian civil aviation history.


In the current year, bilateral trade is expected to touch $20 billion with Indian exports to the US at $14 billion.


According to the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), bilateral trade will shoot up to $40 billion in the next three years.


Nuclear deal


The nuclear deal is expected to boost India’s nuclear security

The nuclear deal is expected to
boost India’s nuclear security

Indian scientists, on the other hand, are protesting the planned nuclear deal.


The deal, finalised during Singh’s US visit last July, is expected to boost India’s energy security.


India presently meets only 3% of its total energy requirements from nuclear sources but hopes to raise it to 25% by 2050.


Under the agreement, the US will facilitate nuclear commerce with India by lifting sanctions that were imposed when India first carried out a nuclear test in 1974 and then in 1998.


In exchange, India, which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), will have to separate its military and civilian nuclear installations and place the latter under the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


The non-proliferation hawks in the US have told Congress that the agreement violates US obligations under the NPT, the bedrock of arms control pact and, by helping India expand its weapons production, could start an arms race in the region, especially with nuclear neighbour, Pakistan.


Indians scientists skeptical


The Indian scientists, however, remain skeptical; they fear the deal would shackle India’s own nuclear programme.


According to Dr. Anil Kakodhkar, chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, the deal would “shackle” India’s independent nuclear programme and compromise its strategic interests.


“The FBRs cannot be put on the civilian list, both for maintaining long term energy security and  the minimum credible deterrent”

Dr. Anil Kakodhkar, chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission

In a media interview, he expressed concern about the Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) that India has developed entirely on its own.


“The FBRs cannot be put on the civilian list, both for maintaining long term energy security and the minimum credible deterrent.”


And thanks to such pressure built up by scientists like Kakodhkar, prime minister Singh assured parliament that FBRs would not be put under international safeguards.


“We are very happy that our concerns about not placing FBRs under international safeguards have been answered,” said Prasad, but advocated “utmost caution and deliberation at each step particularly because there are deep links in the three stages of the nuclear programme, developed painstakingly over five decades.”


“India should work out a deal that we can live with.”



Nuclear Separation Plan


President Bush advocated patience over the nuclear deal

President Bush advocated
patience over the nuclear deal

Indo-US negotiations ahead of the US president’s visit had focused on the classification of the estimated 22 nuclear reactors, with Washington insisting that a majority be in the civilian list and, therefore, under international inspection.


Singh indicated to parliament that about 14 of them could be classified civilian. But because the programme is a chain, with spent fuel from one feeding the next stage, scientists advocate a lesser number under inspections.


If PHWRs are put under inspection, for instance, spent fuel from them cannot go to the next FBR stage, and thus choking it.


Critics also doubt whether the deal will bring India the same benefits that the big nuclear powers enjoy – such as the freedom to decide the civilian from the military programme and switch category as and when the need arises.


“So far, we see no evidence of autonomy and the reciprocity from the US that the prime minister talked about in parliament,” said Prasad.


President Bush advocated patience on both sides as he acknowledged in his address to the Asia Society that the nuclear agreement “is not an easy decision for India, nor is it for the US.” 

Source : Al Jazeera

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