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Strategic gains at heart of Bush South Asia trip
Hu Shisheng China Daily  Updated: 2006-03-07 06:03

The motivation of US President George W. Bush's whirlwind visit to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan between March 1-5 boils down to three elements: Promoting regional balance, countering terrorism and preventing nuclear proliferation.

Regional balance has double connotations. First, US-led strategic interest in Asia; second, balance in the South Asian subcontinent itself.

The United States attaches special importance to India's role in "maintaining regional strategic balance," which is a component vital to "Asian strategic stability" in the eyes of the Bush administration.

India enjoys a unique geo-political position, which is favoured by the United States in its strategic calculations and in its construction of the Asian power-balance framework.

Ashley Tellis, architect of Washington's India policy, once observed that a powerful and independent India should be regarded as one of the United States' strategic assets, even though India merely maintains strategic partnership relations with the United States, short of being an ally.

Indeed, India has gained a lot from the Bush visit. A package of documents of strategic partnership significance, for example, was signed by the two countries during the presidential visit.

The documents involving nuclear co-operation stand out from the rest as the most eye-catching.

The United States, making major concessions at the last moment on matters of civilian-purpose nuclear energy co-operation, agreed that India's fast breeder reactors not be subject to checks by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Things, however, did not stop here. The United States also gave its approval that India be brought into the global co-operation of such programmes as the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and FutureGen, which involves development of clean energy.

The generous gift from the Bush government enables New Delhi, without signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enjoy the same rights enjoyed by the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the rights enjoyed by the five nuclear powers in particular. India is thus granted the status of de facto nuclear power.

All this serves to substantiate the strategic co-operation between the United States and India.

However, India pursues a strongly independent diplomacy. The country wants to have good ties with all countries, developing strategic co-operative relations with Russia, China, the United States and EU in particular.

Stability in relations between South Asian nations and in their domestic situations also feature predominantly in the US calculations on strategic balance in Asia.

Most important of all, the peace process between India and Pakistan should be advanced, defusing the crisis arising from Kashmir disputes, which was called the "powder keg of South Asia" by former US president Bill Clinton.

Bush, during his visit, acclaimed the progress made in the peace process and encouraged India and Pakistan to make continuous efforts to settle the Kashmir issue peacefully. But he stopped short of committing the United States directly to the matter, saying: "The best way for Kashmir to be resolved is for the leaders of both countries to step up and lead."

In the face of the fact that Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are riddled with disputes, Bush urged the two parties to settle their discords, instead of stepping up finger-pointing.

The Afghan Government, for example, time and again charged that Islamabad had been lukewarm about striking remnant Taliban forces and Al-Qaida elements remaining at large within Pakistani borders. Bush, therefore, pushed Pakistani President Musharraf to take tough measures against terrorist penetration.

The bombing of the US consulate in Karachi only served to lengthen Bush's stay in Pakistan from five hours to 24 hours. This shows that the Bush government deliberately demonstrated its support for the governments of Karzai and Musharraf in their efforts to stabilize domestic situations.

India is the United States' partner in worldwide anti-terror war. Besides urging New Delhi to share information and anti-terror tactics with the United States, the US Government hopes that India can take an active part in Afghanistan's political and economic reconstruction, in peace-keeping missions in Iraq and its reconstruction as well.

As a matter of fact, the United States has long regarded India as the only major democracy along the Middle East-Northeast Asia tumult curve. So India, in the eyes of the United States, is a potential helping force, which could contribute greatly to Washington's democratic transformation plan in the region.

To Washington, Pakistan constitutes the forward position of the anti-terror war and also an ally in countering terrorism. Afghanistan is a reminder of the anti-terror war accomplishments and also a laboratory of democratic transformation, which, Washington believes, will help destroy the fertile breeding ground of terrorism. That is why Bush paid his visit to the two countries, in spite of strong anti-US sentiment there.

Preventing nuclear proliferation was the third major factor motivating Bush's visit.

Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has long been a goal pursued by the United States' South Asia policy, all the more so after India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in tandem in 1998. The United States, during Bush's visit, was eager to strike a deal with New Delhi on separating the latter's civilian nuclear facilities from military ones. Washington believes that this would facilitate the US efforts to more effectively curb WMD proliferation, in addition to courting India's favour, which, it believes, does good to its global strategic arrangement.

The Bush government believes that 1998 nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan have disrupted the current non-proliferation infrastructure. Presented with the stark facts, Washington thinks it is better to incorporate India into the revised non-proliferation system than leave New Delhi out of the set-up as a potential proliferation source.

According to the US-Indian deal, New Delhi agrees to subject 65 per cent of its nuclear facilities to the IAEA supervision. The country has also promised to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and pledged to suspend nuke tests unilaterally and ultimately join the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. New Delhi has also committed itself to strictly complying with obligations stipulated by the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The United States' making an exception to accommodate India, driven by geo-political considerations, has, however, sent repercussions through the international non-proliferation infrastructure.

The double standards will very likely complicate the nuclear issues of Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea all the more.

Moreover, US-Indian nuclear co-operation might encourage other nuclear powers to have nuclear co-operation with their partners, which might trigger a chain reaction of nuclear-technology proliferation.

Now the international community is presented with a big question: How can the effectiveness and binding power of the non-proliferation system be guaranteed?

The author is director of the Division for South Asian Studies under the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily 03/07/2006 page4)

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