The Indo-US nuclear deal offers potential for a paradigm shift in India's global role. The importance of the deal does not lie merely in the transfer of nuclear energy. Its importance is psychological. It opens the door to a new era of trust and cooperation between India and the US. A close Indo-US relationship was thwarted for over five decades.
Pandit Nehru always thought India could play a global role. His instincts were sound. His understanding of the real world of politics was naive. He failed to appreciate that, ultimately, what counted was military strength to impose decisions. Conditioned by benign British rule and education, his view remainedutopian. He gave war-ravaged Britain leverage by distancing India from the US. He was dreadfully short-sighted in rejecting President Ayub Khan's offer of Indo-Pakistan joint defence in 1959. His miscalculation of Chinese motives and India's own military preparedness was tragic. His effort to retrace steps after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict was too late. His belated attempt to forge a natural alliance with America was aborted by President Kennedy's assassination. Shortly after that he died.
US global strategy persuaded Washington to forge ties with China for splitting international communism. The strategic aim was sound. It got distorted later, when US big business teamed up with China to create the US-China-Pakistan nexus, which led eventually to nuclear proliferation, to the growth of Al Qaeda and to international drug trade. This nexus corrupted America and criminalized China. It made Pakistan the main conduit for nuclear proliferation and a hub of international terrorism. That is of course no reason for India to assume moral superiority. The record of every nation has scars and warts: before considering the role of America and China in aiding Al Qaeda, recall India's own role in helping create the LTTE. At one time or another all nations have stumbled into mire looking for shortcuts.
India and America now have the prospect of establishing close ties. There exists a natural alliance between them. Although a clich', it remains true that the world's most powerful democracy and the world's largest democracy can make a potent team. There are other similarities. Both nations are multi-ethnic melting pots. India's multi-ethnicity evolved naturally through migrations stretching over 5000 years. America's multi-ethnicity was ideologically crafted through migrations encouraged over just 200 years. So now what can India contribute to expanding this relationship?
At present three major issues confront the world and engage America. They are the evolution of a world order, the containment of terrorism, and the spread of democracy. The last is a personal passion of President Bush. His logic is unexceptionable. Democratic societies are less prone to engage in terror. All three issues deserve India's support. However, serious reservations arise when it comes to implementing these goals.
In the evolution of a new world order India has taken a significant step forward. Without signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, it will most likely gain entry into the nuclear club. This could offer India opportunity to further its goal for total nuclear disarmament. Also, a healthy world order may require alterations and readjustments in the functioning of the World Trade Organization, and reform in the United Nations. Nothing stops India from innovation in both these fields.
The spread of democracy is a natural Indian aspiration. But there is a basic flaw in America's current effort to spread democracy. India adopted a western form of democracy after more than 200 years of close interaction with the British. Imposition of western style constitutions on third world countries with histories of their own will remain problematic. Democracy has to grow organically. As long as the basic tenets of democracy are observed, it should be allowed to take shape according to traditions of the society in which it is introduced. Pashtun tribes took major decisions by voting in jirga conferences. The Sikh missals elected Maharaja Ranjit Singh as their leader. Both cases offered a historical foundation for democracy's growth.
The basic tenets of democracy include governance through rule of law, freedom of expression, protection of human rights, and government decisions that reflect the majority view. Democracy may therefore be parliamentary or presidential; one party, multi-party or non-party; through elections that are direct or indirect. To take another example, if a citizen could join a Communist party while adhering to the country's constitution, which must of course include the basic provisions of democracy, a democratic system could be compatible with one party rule. As would, indeed, be a non-party democracy based on indirect elections, such as conceived by Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narain. Any effort to impose foreign habits on people, such as removal of the veil, is self-defeating. Societies must be allowed to accept new cultural norms voluntarily. India could contribute new ideas to the American effort for spreading democracy.
The war against terror will not succeed unless and until the roots of terror are pulled out of the fertile soil in which they are planted. Terrorism is based upon hate. It thrives among people who feel disaffected. It channels their disaffection towards hatred and destruction. Eventually the cause of disaffection gets so entwined with terror that the two become indistinguishable.
South Asia has four main regions of terrorism. They are Jammu-Kashmir, NWFP and Afghanistan, India's North-east, and the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka. A fifth region where it is beginning to take root is Baluchistan. Apart from the fear-spreading, self-defeating terror that afflicts these areas, there is in each case a political demand for separation or autonomy. This political demand boils down to reclamation of ethnic identity and greater self-rule. In considerable measure, these problems are the legacy of colonial rule. The Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Radcliff Award separating India and Pakistan, the Kashmir dispute, and Pakistan's annexation of Baluchistan ' all these are derived from the mess left behind by imperialist Britain.
A solution to all these problems might best be addressed through converting SAARC into a community ' in the way that the European Union's original 15 member-nations first conceived for themselves. Along with tightening measures to fight terror, India should prepare an explicit plan to create such a Union in South Asia. If SAARC members do not accept it, India might as well walk out of SAARC. India, after all, is like the palm of a hand connected to all SAARC nations. The rest are like fingers, unconnected to each other. This is a time to think big. It is a time to act boldly. To bring about such a change, reform would be required inside India too. Together, India and America can change the world.