Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Well done, Mr. President

Well done, Mr President!

March 07, 2006

Dear Mr President,

You characterised the reception accorded to you in India as the best you received anywhere in the world after you drove into the Presidential palace in New Delhi in a horse-drawn carriage to receive a three-service guard of honour. The din of protests some distance away was on account of Iraq, Guantanamo and Abu Gharib. It did not detract from the warmth of the reception for the first US President to treat India as a mature democracy, whose nuclear assets pose no threat to the United States or its interests in Asia.

The uncertainty that persisted about the deal till the moment it was announced, I believe, was not for dramatic effect. Serious differences remained till your characteristic courage was matched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India made major concessions, first by agreeing to submit a plan for separation of military and civilian nuclear stations to the United States for a credibility test and by accepting inspection in perpetuity. But it took your steely determination expressed on arrival ('I want that deal') to inspire your colleagues to go the extra mile to clinch it.

The nuclear deal may have dimmed the shine on the other landmark agreements reached that will pave the way for doubling trade in three years and enhancing co-operation in defense, counter-terrorism, agriculture, environment, space and promotion of democracy. Some initiatives like the Container Security Initiative, which might have been controversial in other circumstances, also went through in the process. The package appears impressive and the expectation is that your visit will go down in history like President Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972. Our prime minister said as much when he said, 'We have made history, Mr President. Thank you.'

Date With History: President Bush in India

You gave no opportunity to your late show comedians or our gifted cartoonists to go to town on 'Bushisms.' Every word you spoke in India seemed measured. Noted novelist and US basher Arundhati Roy made much of the caged animals near Purana Quila, where you addressed the public at large, but what you said there was heard with attention by the free humans as well, who went to hear you. At least one Indian newspaper reported that you did not wince even when President Kalam served you broccoli soup, a pet aversion of the Bush family.

We never liked the way the US took care to balance India and Pakistan, one a populous, secular democracy and the other a religious dictatorship. 'There he goes again!' said some Indians when you announced your visit to Islamabad on this trip. But you dehyphenated the relationship once and for all when you declared that India and Pakistan are 'different countries with different needs and histories.' You made it clear that the exceptionalisation for India was unique and not replicable for a country, whose leading scientist ran a nuclear Wal-Mart. You said you would not mediate on Kashmir and urged President Pervez Musharraf to shut the terrorist camps and advance the peace process with India. Your words in Pakistan resonated well in India.

Of course, the hurdles that remain are as hazardous as the ones you have just traversed. The US Congress, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA Board of Governors will not be easy to deal with. The Australian prime minister, who followed you to New Delhi, sounded sceptical about the possibility of uranium trade with India, even though he was aware of the pathbreaking accord you reached with India. The silver lining, of course is the positive statement made by the Nobel Laureate, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei. You have shown that you and your colleagues can move mountains when your national interests are at stake.

Well done, Mr President. And best of luck.

T P Sreenivasan


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