On Monday Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalizing the nuclear energy deal with France said in Paris: 'Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty under which it is entitled cooperation in civilian nuclear energy. But as a NPT member it has also to undertake its obligations. We don't support the emergence of a nuclear weapons state in our region. So there is no question of our supporting Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions.'
This statement would have pleased his hosts and other western powers. The statement was unexceptionable. India is against nuclear proliferation. India is right in insisting that signatories to the NPT must observe its discipline. But will any worthwhile practical consequences flow from this perfectly logical and politically correct stand? They will not. As an emerging global player it is time India starts thinking out of the box and initiates political reform in its region.
Iran has legitimate security concerns. Behind President Ahmadinejad's bluster there seems to lurk nervousness. Israel has the means to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel itself is nervous about the intentions of a future nuclear Iran. A few months ago President Ahmadinejad was reported saying that Iran cannot forgo nuclear weapons when neighboring nations have them. He specifically mentioned India and Pakistan. India can still respond to this Iranian concern with a constructive initiative.
India can offer to Iran and Pakistan an arrangement to be worked out by which all three nations could exercise joint control over the Indo-Pakistan nuclear weapons systems. If Iran is allowed participation in such an arrangement it would fully address its security concerns without violating its NPT obligations.
Given the history of Indo-Pakistan relations this suggestion might be considered wildly impractical by people in both countries. It is not. This proposal presupposes an eventual arrangement of joint defence, no visas and common tariffs in South Asia as prevail in Europe. Governments in India and Pakistan, with enthusiastic support by liberal intellectuals in both countries, are already moving towards closer transnational cooperation through Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). It is this approach that is wildly impractical. Will the enemies of closer Indo-Pakistan ties ' and surely they exist ' ever allow CBMs to achieve lasting results? Just one single terrorist strike of the right magnitude could derail the peace process.
CBMs are the wrong end to start. The starting point must be commitment that indicates lasting trust between both governments. The biggest global threat arises from nuclear rivalry. That must be defused. Once both countries agree to a joint nuclear weapons programme, time and effort will ensure the rest.
What is required is a bold initiative. Will Dr Manmohan Singh take the lead?