No. 41, December 2005
Far from asserting itself as a new great power, India is being subjected to crude dictation. It finds itself unable to determine its own foreign policy; unable to defend its sovereignty; unable to defend its immediate economic interests; unable even to defend itself against public threats and humiliation. In the following we attempt to convey, through a series of glimpses, the real political equation that exists between the US and India.
Indian public in the dark
As regards the 'New Framework': Before departing for Washington to meet his counterpart Rumsfeld in June 2005, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee declared that his trip was purely "exploratory": "I am not going with a shopping list. This is a visit by an Indian defence minister to the US after a long time."
On June 28, during this "exploratory" visit, he signed the "New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship". It is a document of sweeping significance, which begins thus:
Mukherjee returned to claim to Parliament on July 11: "There has been no defence agreement or pact with the United States of America."
As regards the nuclear deal: On July 16, 2005, the prime minister responded sharply to the CPI(M) general secretary's warning that he not enter into agreements with the US against the framework of the common minimum programme of the UPA: "India is not for sale", he declared; he would safeguard India's non-alignment till the end of his life. "The purpose of my visit" to the US, he explained to the press, "is to brief the US administration on India's domestic and international concerns and enlist its cooperation to accelerate economic and social development."
By contrast, a relatively junior US official, Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, informed the press that it would be "one of the most consequential US-India summits in the history of our relationship."
Within two days, Burns was proved to be telling the truth, as the July 18 Bush-Manmohan joint statement on nuclear issues was released. Burns now said, "what we've done is to develop with the Indian government and this administration a broad, global partnership of the likes we've not seen with India since India's founding in 1947."
The immediate implications were as follows: India would identify and separate civilian and military nuclear facilities; file a declaration on its civilian facilities with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); 'voluntarily' place its civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards; continue its unilateral moratorium on (in other words, indefinitely cease) testing nuclear weapons; "work with the US" on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (which has not yet come into existence); and adhere to the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
It has emerged since then that the list of facilities to be declared 'civilian' and placed under IAEA safeguards is being dictated, directly or indirectly, by the US. The Indian government has repeatedly affirmed that the agreement is to be implemented in step with complementary measures to be undertaken by the US and other nuclear states. However, it has emerged that in fact India is expected to take all these steps on faith, and hope that the corresponding measures to provide it nuclear fuel will be implemented by the other side to the deal. Notably, while the US's commitments to India are bilateral ones, which may be revoked, India's commitment to the IAEA via the deal is to a multilateral body, and will survive whether or not the US fulfills its part of the deal.
The significance of this agreement is manifold; but the most important implication is that it increases the scope for imperialist intervention and control in India. Not only does India's entire nuclear energy programme come under IAEA scrutiny; a means has been created thereby for the imperialist blackmail of India at any time in the future. We know how Iraq was subjected to endless intrusive inspections supposedly to locate its 'weapons of mass destruction'; while no WMDs have been found to date, those heading the inspections have revealed that US intelligence agents were placed in the inspection teams in order to gather information useful for an invasion of the country. Similarly, the IAEA board of governors now has threatened to refer Iran's nuclear programme to the United Nations Security Council for possible action – not on the basis of any evidence, but on the basis of an "absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes" (emphasis added). The only reason Iraq and Iran have been treated thus is that they did not surrender to US domination. By 'voluntarily' identifying certain facilities as civilian and submitting them to IAEA inspection, India has provided an instrument to be persecuted in the same manner as Iraq and Iran in case it ever defies the US.
As regards the Iran vote: On September 16, 2005, Manmohan Singh indicated that India had not yet made up its mind on how to vote at the IAEA board of governors regarding Iran's case. India had repeatedly expressed its preference for allowing 'diplomacy' to produce a 'consensus'. However, Burns informed the press the same day that the Indian prime minister had conveyed to Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, that India didn't want Iran to become a nuclear state (as India itself had become). Burns said: "We are gratified by what we've heard."
No public discussion took place in India in which the Government aired its views on the issue. It did not even privately consult or inform any other parliamentary parties. Indeed, the matter was not discussed even in the Cabinet until after the vote.
On September 24 India voted at the IAEA with the US and European countries, and against Iran. India's vote was not crucial to obtaining a majority against Iran (the vote was 22 to 1 in favour of the resolution, with 12 abstentions), but it was politically of great importance. Venezuela had supported Iran; South Africa, Malaysia, China, Russia and even Pakistan had abstained. Burns remarked approvingly: "That (India's vote) was a blow to Iran's attempt to turn this into a developed world versus a developing world debate. We are grateful for India's support."1
Thus on all three major foreign policy developments during 2005 India's stand was secret from the Indian people, but known to the US. US Congressman Tom Lantos, member of the House International Relations Committee, made clear that he and other US Congressmen were informed in advance of India's nuclear agreement with the US and its impending vote against Iran. Specifically, they were informed that the nuclear deal with India was contingent on India's supporting the US-sponsored resolution in the IAEA regarding Iran. Questioning Burns at a hearing on September 8, Lantos warned:
In his reply, Burns confirmed Lantos's linkage of the nuclear deal and the Iran vote:
As one commentator remarks, "The above suggests that Mr Lantos was privy to the US administration's behind-the-scenes efforts at securing India's support on the Iran question as one of the key reciprocal measures to the nuclear deal. This seems to have been the 'last piece' that Mr Burns referred to in his statement."2 Thus Lantos and Burns have refuted what Manmohan Singh told Parliament on August 3, 2005, namely, that there was no secret agreement with the US, and that all that had been agreed to was contained in the joint statement of July 18.
The proof of a secret condition to the nuclear deal is that, at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on September 24, India in fact voted as Lantos demanded. Indeed, after India's vote, Lantos stated that "I am pleased that New Delhi clearly heard the message that I and other members have been emphatically trying to convey." India, he said, had learnt an "abject lesson" (sic):
Silent reversals and contradictions
i) Iran-India gas pipeline
On her March 2005 visit to India Condoleezza Rice announced US opposition to the Iran pipeline deal. The US ambassador said that "We have in a very friendly way notified and reminded the Indian government that the legislation is there – the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA)". That Act allows the US to levy sanctions on countries who trade with Iran or Libya; this "friendly" reminder was in fact a threat.
At first, India's external affairs minister Natwar Singh contradicted Rice: talks with Iran were progressing well, he said, and "We have traditionally good relations with Iran and we expect Iran to fulfil all obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT)." The petroleum minister categorically affirmed over and over that the "Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is indispensable for India's energy security and its economic growth".
However, in an interview with the Washington Post in July 2005 Manmohan Singh himself cast doubts on whether the project could succeed:
With the Indian prime minister himself campaigning against the Iran pipeline, it stands little chance of survival.
Indeed, Under-Secretary Burns stated on December 1 that Indian officials had told him that not only the Iran-India pipeline, but all energy deals with Iran (presumably even the deal for the 25-year supply of LNG, which was widely considered finalised) were "hypothetical and years away": "The Indians have assured us there is no plan on the table that is ready for decision by the Iranian and Indian governments, that any plans, any discussions, have been hypothetical and are years away."5 Whether or not he was actually given any such assurance, the very fact that he could assert itreveals that the US is confident of preventing any of the deals from coming to fruition. Burns made clear the US's preference: "We would hope that those [Iran-India] relationships would not be consummated."
ii) Arms to Royal Nepal Army
It is worth recalling that India and the US are closely coordinating their responses to the insurgency in Nepal. By 2004, India had supplied the RNA Rs 2.76 billion worth of equipment, and trained the RNA for counter-insurgency operations. The US has both directly and indirectly supplied weapons to the RNA, and under 'Exercise Balance Nail', the US army has been sending teams to Nepal to take part in operations and to train the RNA.
iii) Posting Indian officers at US commands
On July 6, the Indian defence minister said that he had turned down this suggestion. "There is no question of posting officers at (US) military commands. We have a defence attache in Washington", he said.
Nevertheless, the Hindu of November 17, 2005, reports that
iv) Missile defence
However, in October 2004, US ambassador Mulford told Force magazine that the decision had already been taken, and the US and India were now only discussing specifics: "There has already been a discussion about technology and systems.... The only problem that I see is that it is a technically complicated subject and there are different generations of systems available. So the issue is to figure out which system is needed where. This is a complicated process."7
Accordingly, the 'New Framework' of June 28, 2004 states that the US and Indian defence establishments "shall... expand collaboration relating to missile defence".
v) Endorsing the US occupation regime in Iraq
On May 16, 2004, moments after the Congress party's victory, Natwar Singh declared: "We are for the closest relations with the US. It is our interest and it is in their interest (to move in this direction)." (emphasis added) On June 11, 2004, as external affairs minister, he declared India would take a "new look" at sending troops to Iraq; however, his statement provoked popular protest, and the government dropped the proposal.
In December 2004 Iraq interim foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari visited New Delhi, signifying a resumption of formal contacts with Iraq. On June 22, 2005 Natwar Singh said: "We condemn the actions of disruptive forces in Iraq and the activities of terrorist elements. Once the security situation improves, Iraq will quickly march on the road to prosperity". India was also prepared to provide assistance to the present regime in Iraq in "capacity building" for "security management", Mr Singh said, without giving details. The holding of elections was "a noteworthy and encouraging development" in the context of restoration of sovereignty, and India "has welcomed the formation of the Transitional Government in Iraq...."
vi) Supplying cheap labour to the US occupation
By May 2004 the NDA government had already allowed the despatch of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Indian ex-soldiers to Iraq. Former servicemen, including retired officers upto the rank of divisional commanders, were recruited by private security agencies in order to guard key installations – oil wells, refineries, and supply depots. The NDA defence minister, George Fernandes, claimed that there was nothing his government could do to prevent ex-servicemen from going to Iraq. Indeed, a large (and highly disreputable) Mumbai-based firm providing contract security workers, TRIG Guard Force, claimed that it had obtained government clearance to send security guards to Iraq. (Two such workers were reported killed in May 2004.)
Apart from such military/semi-military personnel, a large number of support staff are required for an occupation – truck drivers, cooks, barbers, butchers, washermen, cleaners, construction workers, engineers, electricians, and so on. (Non-Iraqis are required because Iraqis are a security risk for the occupation.) While the NDA government's minister of state for labour and employment claimed in May 2004 that 5,042 Indians had entered Iraq, the source of his figure is a mystery. The overwhelming bulk of Indians working in Iraq had not entered legally; they had visas to work in Kuwait, Jordan, or other nearby countries, from where they were smuggled into Iraq with the collusion of the US army (some of the hapless Indian workers did not even know they were to be working in Iraq, and others did not know of the conditions there).
For example, the Washington Post (1/7/04) reported the case of D.Ajayakumar, a Keralite worker employed by an Indian firm; five levels of such subcontractors intervened between him and his real employer, the US firm Kellogg, Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton, earlier headed by US vice-president Dick Cheney). He and his fellow Indian workers had paid Rs 80,000 each to the Indian agency in order to obtain what they thought were jobs in Kuwait. Once in Kuwait they were smuggled first to Baghdad, and then to a US military base in Mosul (in north Iraq). The base faced a daily barrage of attacks from the Iraqi resistance fighters. The workers were held by the US military against their will. They were inadequately fed, and subjected to occasional beatings. Desperate, 16 of them daringly escaped from the camp, and made it to Jordan.8
On July 20, 2004, three Indian truck drivers in Iraq were taken hostage (along with other non-Iraqis) by an Iraqi resistance group. (Reportedly, most of the vehicles carrying supplies for the US military, which are routinely targeted by the Iraqi resistance, are driven by Indian and Pakistani drivers.) The Indian government – now the UPA – then entered into prolonged negotiations for their release, which only took place 42 days later. However, the UPA government, like the earlier NDA government, refused to place a ban on service in Iraq. On July 29, 2004, it issued the following strange statement: "In view of the seriousness of the current security situation in Iraq, the Government of India advises its citizens to defer visits to that country for the time being." However, Natwar Singh clarified on August 3, 2004 that the Government had made no request to Indian citizens to leave Iraq – despite the death of at least 13 during the previous year.
Finally, in August 2004, the Government placed a ban on recruiting manpower for Iraq. This ban was never implemented. Since then the flow of Indian workers to US-occupied Iraq appears to have increased. For example, large numbers of agricultural labourers from several of Andhra Pradesh's drought-hit districts are travelling to Iraq. Officials are quoted as saying that just Karimnagar district sends 500 workers to the Gulf every month, of which a large proportion go to Iraq. A single village, Chelgal, with a population of 5,000, has reportedly exported several hundred workers to Iraq. "Most of them have no idea of the dangers. They have not heard about the Indian labourers who were kidnapped and held for ransom by resistance fighters." At any rate, they are unable to find jobs in their villages. The Rs 150,000 they pay the employment agency is borrowed from village moneylenders. One worker recounted to a reporter his harrowing experience at a US base, where he worked along with others from Gujarat, Kerala, and various districts of Andhra Pradesh. He and two other workers were finally driven to escape after a Pakistani colleague accompanying US troops was hit by a bullet.9
Nevertheless, the director-general of police for Andhra Pradesh, Swaranjit Sen, declared that the rate of migration to Iraq is "not an alarming rate, otherwise it would have caught our attention."10
The Economic Times (18/7/05) estimates that during the previous year, when recruitment for Iraq was supposedly banned, around one hundred thousand Indians have been exported to Iraq. Recruiters include construction companies, catering companies, and suppliers to the US military. Recruitment is carried out in a dozen Indian cities, and the jobs include cooks, kitchen assistants, supervisors, accountants, financial supervisors, bus drivers, and carpenters. (The whole operation is quite open: Even now, the Indian internet firm Naukri.com carries advertises jobs in Iraq at Rs 60,000 per month.) Sources in recruitment agencies estimate that 5,000 to 8,000 Indians are sent to Iraq each month.
It should be clear from the above account that the entire operation cannot be carried out without the knowledge and blessing of the Indian government.
Open-door policy for US intelligence
Singh was an officer of rank of joint secretary at India's external intelligence service, the 'Research and Analysis Wing' (RAW). He was in charge of Southeast Asia analysis. In 1992-93 he was reportedly in dire financial need; he later mysteriously acquired an expensive lifestyle. His wife spent half the year abroad, they entertained lavishly and stayed in a luxurious house. Singh's wife and children eventually moved to the US, where his brother, sister and other relations already stayed. Meanwhile he acquired over 15 pieces of real estate in India (with a total value of well over Rs 70 million), eight of which he held in his own name.11 "Repeated adverse comments by Mr Singh's superiors neither halted his promotion through RAW's ranks nor denied him sought-after overseas postings".12
Eventually, however, he came under suspicion. Video and telephone surveillance evidence indicated he was working for the US Central Intelligence Agency. RAW chief C. D. Sahay sent a report on Singh to the Prime Minister's Office and the National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra in April 2004. Yet Singh was not arrested. (Remarkably, he applied for, and received, permission to move over 120 files from his office in the weeks before his departure.) RAW submitted further reports to the PMO and Mishra regarding Singh's activities.13
At last, on May 14, 2004, the RAW chief's request for action against Singh was approved. By uncanny coincidence, Singh and his wife took a taxi to Kathmandu the same day. There they reportedly stayed for a week while US passports (in false names) were prepared for them by the US embassy, after which they flew to the US. Even at this stage the NDA government decided to reveal nothing of the matter, let alone issue a warrant for Singh's arrest.
The new Congress-led government assumed office in May 2004. Strangely, it refused to make political capital of the NDA government's record regarding Singh. The new Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Security, M.K. Narayanan, said the matter was "unfortunate": "Passing judgement on how it happened is not important. What is important is that he managed to escape and there is as yet no confirmation about his whereabouts."14National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit said that the government had a "general idea" of where the missing officer was residing. "We are in constant touch with our counterparts in the US over this issue and inquiries are on to get to know his whereabouts."15
Almost a year after the escape of Rabinder Singh, the Government had not yet filed a case against him under the Official Secrets Act or any other law, but was still consulting its legal officers.16
The Rabinder Singh case attracted attention because he was a senior officer, but defections of Indian intelligence personnel to the US are routine. Dixit admitted that a preliminary report to the Cabinet Secretariat contained a list of 20-odd officers of RAW who "could not be traced". He was unperturbed: "Defections and cross-overs are a problem faced by intelligence agencies all over the world. These many officers crossing over in 40 years is nothing to get worried about."17
In fact, more than 36 Indian Foreign Service officers have disappeared in the past few years while posted in North American countries. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) was compelled to write to Indian ambassadors in March 2005 regarding the "growing incidents of unauthorised absence and desertion of officials, especially in North America."18 Further, there has been a steep increase in desertions by members of the MEA's Bureau of Security: More than 90 per cent reportedly do not return from their postings, with more than a dozen cases reported in 2004 alone. It appears that cases are not filed against the offenders: the MEA, "unable to check the trend, is ensuring that some of the absconding officials, especially from the IFS, seek voluntary retirement to avoid embarrassment."19
Indeed opportunities are officially provided for the US to recruit Indian agents as part of improving relations with the US:
Open-door practices appear to be common in the Army as well:
In this light, it is amusing that the June 28, 2005 "New Framework for US-India Defence Relationship" says that the two sides shall "increase exchanges of intelligence".
Using the platform of 'joint action against terrorism', India's internal security agencies too have been integrated step by step with US agencies. In 2000, the two countries set up a US-India Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, and a Cyber Security Forum on cyber-terrorism was set up in 2001-02. In the same year the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US's domestic law enforcement agency, met the heads of Indian internal and external intelligence agencies, home ministry officials, and the national security advisor Brajesh Mishra. The FBI was allowed to set up an office in New Delhi. The purpose of this office was not revealed.
However, it appears that FBI agents do operate in India. In October 2004, US ambassador David Mulford made the startling offer of FBI help in investigating the bomb blasts in the Northeast. Mulford wrote directly to Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi: "Should you find it helpful the FBI should be pleased to provide technical support for investigation. I have also made this offer to home minister Shivraj Patil. I hope you will be free to contact me if there is any other way that we can be helpful."22 This offer exceeded the limits of Mulford's diplomatic function. Rather than rebuke Mulford, however, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil merely referred to it as a "gesture of help", and Gogoi welcomed it.
US personnel may also be stationed in India in defence of US 'national security'. In February 2005, the Cabinet cleared a proposal for India to join the US-led Container Security Initiative, which would involve the stationing of US Customs and Border Patrol personnel to screen containers before they leave Indian ports. The scheme will start at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust outside Mumbai, where sophisticated equipment is being installed for the purpose. The US has also proposed stationing agents of its Department of Homeland Security to screen passengers at airports across the world, including in India. The US Coast Guard has recently invited the Indian Coast Guard to use US-supplied remote controlled spy planes for surveillance of the Indian coast; the intelligence would be simultaneously shared with the US Coast Guard.23
The Indian authorities did not deem it necessary to point out that the US ambassador has no right to dictate economic policy to them.
Take the extraordinary remarks of Representative Lantos on September 8, 2005 in the US House International Relations Committee, some of which we have already quoted above. Lantos crudely attacked Natwar Singh's recent visit to Iran, during which Singh was reported to have referred to "injustice in international relations" and stated that "India's relations[hip] with Iran is not predicated on positions and views attributed to some government." Lantos said: "this is sickening, literally sickening. This is Stalinist rhetoric, which we don't accept from the Indian Foreign Minister." Further, "Only an imbecile would believe that they are developing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes only." He warned undersecretary Burns:
Interestingly, the response of the Indian ambassador to the US was not to condemn or protest the remarks, but to phone Natwar Singh, who denied have made the statements Lantos attributed to him.25 Neither the ambassador nor Natwar Singh thought it necessary to question the presumptions behind Lantos's remarks.
Lantos linked the US-India nuclear deal, and India's emergence as a 'great power', even more explicitly to India's submission to the requirements of US foreign policy:
1. The purpose of the IAEA vote was not actually to refer Iran's case to the Security Council, for as yet any action against Iran is likely to be vetoed there by China and Russia. Rather, the purpose was to manufacture an atmosphere of public condemnation and isolation of Iran, so as to justify any unilateral action against it in the future. Thus the US and EU themselves decided not to bring about a second vote to refer Iran to the IAEA. The Indian government made out nevertheless that this decision was the result of its lobbying efforts; the CPI and CPI(M) expressed their satisfaction at this stand, and implied that the Indian government's 'stand' was the result of their pressure. (back)
2. "Was anti-Iran commitment given in July?", R. Ramachandran, Hindu, 30/9/05. (back)
3. "An abject lesson for India, says Lantos", Hindu, 4/10/05. (back)
4. "Power grids and the new Silk Road", Siddharth Varadarajan, Hindu, 11/7/05; "A farewell to the gas pipeline?", Siddharth Varadarajan, Hindu, 22/7/05. (back)
5. "National interest or American interest?", Amit Baruah, Hindu, 6/12/05. (back)
6. "Closer Indo-US naval ties mooted", Business Standard, 16-4-05. (back)
7. "US, India have gone beyond talking about ballistic missile defences", Hindu, 9/10/04; emphasis added. (back)
8. "Middlemen behind woes of Indian workers", Atul Aneja, Hindu,24/7/04. Another account of three Keralite workers who similarly escaped from Iraq confirms that such conditions were general. The workers were kept in dingy cubicles, and paid (after deductions for food and accommodation) $165 a month, for 12 hours' work a day. – Indian Express, 26/6/04 Indian firms also recruit large numbers of Nepali workers for Iraq. – "Indian agencies send Nepalis to Iraq", Asian Age, 7/9/04. (back)
9. "Andhra poor brave Iraq death trap", P. Sridhar and U. Sudhakar Reddy, Asian Age, 2/3/05. (back)
10. Ibid. It is relevant to note that Sen's wife is charged with running an illegal business exporting babies for adoption abroad. (back)
11. "Spy on the run is property king", P.D. Samanta, Indian Express, 12/12/04. (back)
12. Praveen Swami, Hindu, 15/6/04. (back)
13. "Action delayed, RAW man slipped out", Indian Express, 26/7/04. (back)
14. Ibid. (back)
15. "RAW working will be reviewed: Dixit", Indian Express, 20/6/04. (back)
16. "On RAW evidence in spy case, Solicitor General says: You've a case but be sure", Ritu Sarin, Indian Express, 25/4/05. (back)
17. "RAW working will be reviewed: Dixit". (back)
18. "Missing in action", Saurabh Shukla, India Today, 11/4/05. (back)
19. Ibid. (back)
20. "Open doors for mole recruitment", Praveen Swami, Hindu, 14/6/04. (back)
21. "A spreading menace", Rahul Bedi, Frontline, 20/7/02. (back)
22. "US ambassador offered FBI help in probing NE bomb blasts", Business Standard, 6/10/04. (back)
23. "US Coast Guard invites India to share intelligence", Indian Express, 3/2/05. (back)
24. "India betrayed us on insurance – US envoy", Times of India, 7/10/05; emphasis added. The following month the US treasury secretary, on a visit to India, similarly demanded: "India must allow foreign firms greater participation in its financial sector. India had been reluctant to lift the limits that it maintained on foreign participation. It needs to allow foreign firms greater participation in insurance and banking, and really across the board". – "Open up banking, insurance: Snow", Business Standard, 8/11/05. (back)
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