We are seeing the contours of a new road map on strategic and security issues, quietly being implemented by the government, surreptitiously, stealthily, without public debate, and finally to confront the nation with a fait accompli
In the past week or so, three or four changes in Government of India's stand in various international forums have briefly been reported. They appear seemingly unrelated; however there is a clear possibility that there may be a strong inter-connection.
At L'Aquila in Italy, where the G8 summit took place last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one of the few non-member invitees who participated in this annual meeting of the heads of eight developed countries. In the joint declaration of G8, apparently India has agreed on a formulation on 'climate change', essentially agreeing to a two-degree rise cap on global temperatures from the pre-industrial era. G8 leaders also issued a statement, while Singh was still at the venue, linking the supply of nuclear fuel to power plants to the issue of joining the NPT/CTBT regime.
About the same time, the commerce ministry announced that the final preparatory meeting for the Doha Round of trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be held in India, with a significant statement that India will ensure that finally an agreement will be reached at this conference.
A few days later, at the NAM Summit in Cairo, India and Pakistan, at the highest executive levels, apparently formally delinked terrorism from an all-encompassing bilateral dialogue. All of above appear quite independent of each other but can one see the elements of a grand plan, a change in India's basic strategic position?
It almost appears as though the new government has decided to restate its policy position on national and international issues, without notice or debate, even as Parliament is in session in India. Take the Doha Round of WTO negotiations. India, along with leading developing countries, like Brazil and China have strongly articulated positions on a number of issues, especially Trade in Agriculture.
Considering the critical importance of the agricultural rural economy to India, there has been extreme caution in the past about supporting initiatives to liberalise trade in agriculture. Our classic position over two decades now has been, rightly, that US and Europe should first significantly roll down the massive subsidies that they provide to their domestic farmers before the question of trade in agriculture can be seriously discussed.
The US and EU have staunchly refused to consider this, while trying to bind developing countries to a new discipline. Making India host of the next round of discussions is a clever tactical move by the developed countries to mute the Indian opposition; besides India has also agreed to 'find a solution'!
Have we changed our policies overnight, even without a discussion? Is there a connection between the departure of Kamal Nath as commerce minister to a relatively less prestigious assignment and his replacement by Anand Sharma, to ensure that India will play ball?
Very similar is the Indian acquiescence to the cap in global warming without any consideration to the differential contribution to climate change by USA and the developed countries on the one hand and the developing countries on the other. Our consistent posture in the past has been that India can look to join any regime provided USA and the rest, who have been the major polluting culprits till now, take major steps in controlling their emissions.
Indeed, USA has not even subscribed to the Kyoto declaration on climate change. Yet the recent joint communication from Italy which makes no distinction between developed and developing countries comes as a total surprise. One has not seen any debate or recent discussions preceding this massive change in posture, in the Parliament or elsewhere.
Equally puzzling is the recent Cairo communiqué, tacitly dropping any prior condition relating to addressing the terror issue, before an all-encompassing bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. Is there a connection between this and the week-long visit of the US secretary of state to India?
For the first time, a high US dignitary has visited India and bypassed Pakistan. Is this the quid pro quo? What has India received, in giving up so much negotiating room? We need some clarity on these bizarre developments of last week.
A mention also needs to be made of the new conditions imposed by the West on supply of nuclear fuel, linking it with international treaties on the subject. Clearly there is an apparent conflict between these new conditions and the interpretation of the Indo-US nuclear deal as rendered to Parliament by the Indian leadership. Hillary Clinton's clear agenda is to open up the Indian market for US exports, particularly on technology areas; witness the proposal for two nuclear power plants during this visit. All of these do not appear to add up.
Are we seeing the contours of a new road map on strategic and security issues, quietly being implemented by the government, surreptitiously, stealthily, without public debate, and finally to confront the nation with a fait accompli?
By TSR Subramanian. The writer is a former Cabinet Secretary, Government of India. Having been privy to State secrets at the highest level of decision making, he knows what he's talking about.