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Unequal partners?

Amit Baruah

A rising India is closing its strategic options by allying too closely with the United States.

SINCE THE July 2005 visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington, the Indo-U.S. relationship has been the subject of considerable debate in both the Indian and the American press principally for the statement of intent on civilian nuclear cooperation. Even as the last word on a nuclear deal will be clear during President George W. Bush's ongoing visit, another initiative the Prime Minister undertook is, perhaps, even more controversial. And that is the promotion of democracy along with the U.S. around the world.

Agreeing to a "global democracy initiative" last July, the two sides said, "India and the United States share a fundamental commitment to democracy and believe they have an obligation to the global community to strengthen values, ideals and practices of freedom, pluralism, and rule of law.

"With their solid democratic traditions and institutions, they have agreed to assist other societies in transition seeking to become more open and democratic. They recognise democracy as a universal aspiration that transcends social, cultural and religious boundaries."

This grandiose formulation also commits New Delhi to "organising together" with the U.S. training courses in India, America, or a third country where necessary, to enhance capabilities to strengthen democratic institutions and develop their human resources. This initiative must be read together with the new, bilateral defence framework of June 2005, which holds that the Indo-U.S. defence relationship derives from a common belief in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, and seeks to advance shared security interests. In pursuit of this shared vision, the defence establishments of the two sides shall collaborate in multinational operations "when it is in their common interest".

So, if the next "democracy" project of America is, say, Iran, the U.S. can legitimately invoke this new framework for "multinational collaboration". Of course, in India's "enlightened national interest", the Government may say it's not in the "common interest", but, then, the U.S., by a formal mechanism, can legitimately request Indian troops for Iran.

When Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush stood together to announce their global "democracy" initiative, Iraq was burning. According to iraqbodycount.net, an independent website, a minimum of 28,535 and a maximum of 32,153 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the March 2003 American invasion.

Since May 2003, when Mr. Bush announced that his "mission" in Iraq had been "accomplished", it's estimated that a total of 2,149 American troops have been killed in what was once a peaceful and safe West Asian nation.

Of this 2,149, as many as 1,734 perished in combat with what increasingly looks to be a sophisticated and organised resistance against the U.S., which is beginning to show signs of panic and a desire to embrace a still unclear exit strategy.

In the name of democracy, Iraq stands at the crossroads of a full-scale civil war. America has failed on all counts: be it the building of democracy, infrastructure or even minimum safety conditions for the people of Iraq. In the name of democracy, American troops have resorted to abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners; the American state, in reality, has lost the right to speak about human rights' abuses in other parts of the world.

In the name of democracy, America under Mr. Bush set up the biggest con job in selling the war on Iraq: that Saddam Hussein possessed "weapons of mass destruction".

The Indian Parliament was one of the few in the world, at the prodding of Congress party, which called for an immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. Today, the resolution is forgotten as successive Indian governments rush to embrace American foreign policy as their own. A much poorer, resource-constrained India spoke for national liberation movements in Palestine and South Africa. America, on its part, is the biggest impediment to an independent Palestinian state and was also the biggest collaborator with the apartheid regime in South Africa.

A much richer, resource-endowed Indian state now believes that its "place in the sun" can only be ensured by promoting an American version of democracy, whose next act Washington wants to perform in Iran.

A rising India is today closing its strategic options by allying closely with the United States. Some years ago, it would have been considered a general insult for the U.S. to say that it would "help" India become a global power. Now, sections of India's strategic elite simply applaud such statements.

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