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Can the West depend on India?

In 1992, India and Pakistan signed an agreement stating that they would never develop, produce or otherwise acquire chemical weapons. Fast forward to 14th January 1993, India happily made a similar pledge with 119 countries (parties to the CWC at the time) by acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention. There was a small glitch though — in its agreement with Pakistan six months ago, India did not declare that it had a stockpile of 1,044 tons of sulphur mustard chemical munitions at the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). New Delhi conveniently chose to forget that heist of chemical munitions. Such behaviour belies an error of commission, not omission.

Fast forward 25 years. No one remembers this untrustworthy behaviour and in January 2018, Australian Group selects India as the 43rd member of this cartel that regulates exports of chemicals and organisms that could contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons. Some politically like-minded Western countries from this cartel played a key role in swift and silent processing of India’s membership. This exceptionalism was stretched to a point that a country used all its influence in international fora for a hassle-free Indian membership, despite its history of duplicity.

India has an interesting past of getting mere reprimand for what countries like Iraq were invaded for, despite not having nuclear weapons ambition. In 1974, notwithstanding international pressure to refrain from carrying out any nuclear-related activities, India conducted a nuclear test and sold it as a peaceful nuclear explosion that could save it from undertaking protracted earthwork projects like construction of dams. This so-called peaceful nuclear test led to the creation of another cartel of states that would not allow a future India to divert atoms provided for peaceful purposes to weapons use.

Thanks to realpolitik and to the woes of so-called non-proliferation regime, some big countries in the NSG cartel not only provided an exceptional trade waiver to India in 2008 but are now pushing for Indian membership. Such blatant and exceptional application of non-proliferation norms shall not only permanently harm the global nuclear order but also accentuate strategic instabilities.

For India, the NSG membership is merely a stamp of approval because the waiver of 2008 already gave it the liberty to enjoy a lot of the perks, which are generally reserved for the NSG member states, without it actually being a member. They have been able to conclude nuclear deals with a number of countries unencumbered and unchallenged, the duplicitous history quite forgotten.

The exceptional treatment of India and geopolitical apartheid is usually ascribed to the country’s rising relevance in American containment strategy against China. India’s value as a big market and its influential diaspora in important capitals are two added factors. While the latter two can be worthy reasons, India’s value as a counterweight to China and net security provider in its neighbourhood is doubtful. For instance, India has larger bilateral trade with China than the US. In 2016, Sino-India trade volume was 70.8 billion dollars as compared to 62.1 billion dollars Indian trade with the US. Likewise, India uses China as a bogey to attract American political and technological support at international forums.

India with its aspirations for grandeur and recent resurgence of Hindutva and “Hindu’s above all” and “Hindu’s first” like thinking are unlikely to be satisfied with the mere approval of the Western powers as a marketplace for the West. They may very well have grander designs in the near future which the West in its short-term plan may be unable to foresee.

The West has to balance its short-term political and economic interests against the long-term threat that India may pose to a rule-based order. The question worth deeper investigation in partnering with India is whether the West is betting on the right horse. 

The Express Tribune

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