President Ahmadinejad arrives in Delhi on Tuesday. During his brief stopover he will confer with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Recently a statement from official US sources advised New Delhi to persuade Iran to stop its uranium enrichment programme. New Delhi rebuffed the US. It said India was capable of conducting its foreign policy without foreign advice. The government reiterated its close historic ties with Iran.
Earlier India had voted against Iran for ignoring, as a signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). India was justified in doing this. Russia and China did the same. The West's concerns about nuclear proliferation are valid. Iran's clandestine past in procuring nuclear know-how from Pakistan's Dr A.Q. Khan deserves criticism. But Iran's demand for a level nuclear playing field for all nations is fully justified. And the previous US record of overlooking Pakistan's nuclear proliferation is no less reprehensible. When India supports Iran's development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes it is not enough. The substantive nuclear issue needs to be addressed.
US concerns about the threat emanating from nuclear proliferation are justified. If present trends continue terrorists will inevitably in the not too distant future procure and use nuclear weapons. India could well be the target of a future terrorist nuclear attack. What the big powers fail to recognize is that this threat cannot be contained through mere non-promotion of nuclear proliferation. Nothing less than nuclear disarmament will stem the danger. How might that be achieved? India, as the only recognized nuclear power non-signatory to NPT, could play a significant role.
More than a month ago this writer sent a questionnaire to President Ahmadinejad through the courtesy of the Iranian Embassy. Two questions were posed to the President.
The first question was:
"Some time ago the media had reported you saying that Iran would renounce nuclear weapons if India and Pakistan also renounced nuclear weapons. My question is, how would you react to the following proposition: China along with India and Pakistan should renounce nuclear weapons. To make Asia a nuclear-free zone China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Israel should form a joint committee to formulate a concrete plan for total nuclear disarmament under the aegis of the United Nations. All existing nuclear weapons in the world would be under the authority of the UN which would have the power of inspection worldwide to ensure that nuclear weapons were not being built clandestinely by any government or non-government body. Till such time as the rest of the world accepts the Asian plan for total disarmament, the Asian powers would retain their deterrent nuclear weapons under joint control for possible use under a single authority representing all the members of the Asian Group. Regardless of which nations accept joining this proposed Group, would Iran consent to join up with India to initiate the process?"
The second question was:
"Iran and India have ancient historical and cultural ties. In India the Sufi and the Bhakti movements have been graced by several renowned Saints. Followers of these movements in India revere Shamas Tabriz, Jalaluddin Rumi and Khwaja Hafiz, among other illustrious Iranians, as great Saints. What is your attitude to these Iranian Saints?"
Not surprisingly, President Ahmadinejad did not respond.
Understandably, the President of a nation state would be wary of engaging in discussion on such a significant subject with a mere journalist.
Although, after the questions were sent, he did make a public statement that Iran would like to share nuclear know-how for peaceful purposes with all nations that seek it. If the Indian government is sincere about its national commitment, made by Rajiv Gandhi, for total nuclear disarmament, empty words to that effect are not enough. Someone must act. India is best placed to take the initiative. If Dr. Manmohan Singh initiates a dialogue on the subject with President Ahmadinejad, he could set the ball rolling.