A document of deviation

Published : Aug 12, 2005 00:00 IST

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. - SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. - SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

The Framework Defence Agreement between New Delhi and Washington signals India's continuing shift towards a U.S.-led unipolar world and the UPA government's violation of the Common Minimum Programme.

THAT the special relationship between New Delhi and Washington was being elevated to an even higher level by the Indian government became amply clear with the signing of the Framework Defence Agreement. The 10-year agreement was signed during the visit of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Washington on June 28. "The United States and India have entered a new era," said a statement issued after the signing of the agreement, which came three months after Washington announced its intention to help India become a "major world power". The two countries had signed the Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership (NSSP) Programme in January 2004.

Before his departure to the U.S., the Defence Minister had told the media that his visit was a routine one. However, he returned with the agreement on "strategic partnership". The Left parties were stringent in their criticism of the agreement. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that the agreement was fraught "with serious consequences for India's strategic and security interests" and would have a "direct bearing" on India's foreign policy.

Not surprisingly, the only major political party to support the agreement openly was the Bharatiya Janata Party. In fact, Jaswant Singh, External Affairs Minster in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and currently a senior spokesperson for the party on foreign affairs, claimed much of the credit for the agreement. He said that the agreement was merely "paperwork" implementing the understanding his government had reached with the U.S. "What Pranab Mukherjee has done is to ink a document" to take the present government on "the path that the NDA had first embarked on," Jaswant Singh told the media.

It is evident that a lot of diplomatic spadework, much of it in a cloak-and-dagger fashion, was done prior to Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Washington. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M), told Frontline that the agreement was signed in a "stealthy manner". He pointed out that the Defence Minister who had said that he was on an "exploratory visit", came back with a full-fledged agreement. "The agreement does not augur well. It ties India to the strategic goals of the United States in the region," Prakash Karat said.

In retrospect, the Indian side seemed keen to sign on the dotted line in order to guarantee the "success" of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington a few weeks later. The agreement, a detailed and comprehensive document, talks "about transforming" the relationship between the two countries on the basis of "shared national interests". It lays great emphasis on the two countries being among the "largest" democracies in the world. The Bush administration wants India to play a key role in its mission to spread "democracy".

The U.S. seeks to impose Western-style democracy on the resource-rich states of West Asia and Central Asia. Using the "democracy card", it seeks to undermine Moscow's influence in East Europe and Central Asia. In capitals such as Moscow and Beijing, "democracy" has become a buzzword for "destabilisation" of their governments. What they most dread at this juncture are more "democratic revolutions", supervised from Washington, like the "rose" and "orange" revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, which brought pro-Western governments to power.

THE opening paragraph of the agreement talks of "the vital importance of political and economic freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law, security, opportunity around the world". Manmohan Singh also struck to the script written in Washington by constantly emphasising on "shared democratic values" and "civilisational" bonding between India and the U.S., during his visit.

The more substantive part of the agreement deals with defence cooperation. The first defence cooperation agreement between the two countries was signed 10 years ago, when the Congress had a monopoly of power at the Centre. The new agreement notes that in the past 10 years Indo-U.S. defence relationship had "advanced in a short time to unprecedented levels of cooperation unimaginable in 1995". The agreement goes on to state that the new defence relationship "will be an element of the broader U.S.-India strategic partnership". Its other key point pertains to the goal of "defeating terrorism and violent religious extremism". More controversially, the agreement states that the defence establishments of the two countries will "collaborate in multinational operations when it is in their common interests".

Prakash Karat pointed out that under the terms of the agreement, both the military establishments have agreed "to collaborate in multinational operations when it is in their common interest". There is no mention that such multilateral operations will be under the auspices of the United Nations. "It opens the way for Indian participation in American-led military operations", he said. It is no secret that the American establishment views China as the main threat in the region. "The primary U.S. strategic goal is to isolate China," Karat said.

The CPI(M) leader said that the Bush administration was also keen to rope in India into its missile defence system programme for Asia. The American game plan for the Asian region has become even more blatant after the release of the Pentagon annual report on China in the third week of July. The report stresses that China has long-term ambitions to extend its influence across Asia and its leaders and it "may be tempted to resort to force or coercion more quickly" to advance its security interests or resolve disputes.

The agreement states that the defence establishments of the two countries "will expand collaboration relating to missile defence". The NDA was among the first to welcome Washington's decision to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and replace it with the missile defence programme. "The offering of the Patriot missile system to India is a bait," Prakash Karat said. It is well known that the U.S. Missile Defence System is targeted against China. It is no surprise that its most enthusiastic backers are Japan and Taiwan, the two closest allies of the U.S. in the region. The CPI(M) in its statement said that the agreement came at a time when the U.S. was actively working to prevent China from enhancing its defence potential. "What is unstated in this agreement is the U.S. aim of containment of China, using India as a counter-weight," the statement said.

Prakash Karat warned that the U.S. offer for co-production of defence equipment was a ploy to open the lucrative Indian defence market to the American military industrial complex. The Bush administration is especially keen to sell F-16s to India. "There is no talk of sharing high technology," Karat said. Under the terms of the agreement, the two sides have also envisaged joint patrolling of important sea-lanes such as the Malacca Straits. Karat said that it was the prerogative of Asian states to cooperate to ensure the security of maritime trade in the region. "Malaysia and Indonesia are against the concept of joint patrolling." The member-countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have said that they would jointly ensure the security of the sea-lanes and are against outside powers stepping in. Karat feels that the eagerness of the U.S. to involve the Indian Navy in the joint patrols is part of the larger game plan of drawing India into the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Japan and Australia are enthusiastic backers of the PSI in Asia.

Karat emphasised that there was no mention of "collaboration with the U.S. on this scale" in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP), to which the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is committed. He said that the CMP highlighted the need to pursue an independent foreign policy and promote multi-polarity in international relations. "The Congress-led government may end up dovetailing our military capabilities with that of the Americans," he said.

Left leaders have cautioned the government not to go beyond the "framework" stage of the agreement.

DIPLOMATS belonging to several developing countries are surprised by the Indian government's haste in initialling the defence agreement with the U.S. "After this India will not be welcome in groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The agreement goes against the principles of the Non-aligned Movement," said a senior diplomat based in New Delhi. He said the agreement, besides bypassing the U.N., supported the concept of "preventive action" propounded by the neo-conservative Bush administration. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has in fact demanded that Washington set a date for dismantling its military bases in Central Asia.

Pranab Mukherjee insists that the agreement was designed merely to fill up "critical gaps" in technology. In an interaction with the media he said that the UPA government continued to follow an independent foreign policy and that the agreement "to widen Indo-U.S. friendship in the important sector of defence" was also part of this policy. "Through this framework agreement, we have expanded and widened the relationship. Nobody is forcing us to do something." Pranab Mukherjee said that the Congress government headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s started the policy of strengthening relations with the U.S.

Manmohan Singh told the media team accompanying him on his Washington visit that India's national interests would not be compromised. Reacting to the criticism from the Left parties, he said that he and the Congress were not willing to "take lessons in patriotism" from other parties.

The present leadership in the Congress has few foreign policy differences with the BJP. In fact, some influential policy-makers in the present government are of the view that the NDA government's cosying up with Washington and Tel Aviv when it was in power was only a continuation of the foreign policy initiated by the Congress in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War.

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