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Editorial: A Day's Work

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-03-03

It did not take the treaty that President Bush signed yesterday with Indian Prime Minister Singh amid much fanfare and pageantry in New Delhi for India to be ushered into the world's nuclear club. India has possessed nuclear weapons for more than 30 years. And long before the late Indira Gandhi ??? one of Mr. Singh's socialist predecessors ??? approved the production of missiles that could strike not only neighboring Pakistan, India's longtime rival and enemy, but also another hostile neighbor, China, Indians had set up reactors to generate nuclear energy to provide power for its rapidly burgeoning population.

Nevertheless, President Bush entered into history yesterday. By agreeing to a treaty ??? and overriding protestations from Congressional Democrats, including self-styled friends of India ??? he validated the use of nuclear systems by the world's biggest democracy. He obtained from the Indians an assurance that the use of nuclear technology would be distinctly separated, a guarantee that no other country ??? and certainly not from the 135 states of the Third World ??? has given to America, and, by extension, to the world community. Prime Minister Singh told Mr. Bush that of India's 22 nuclear facilities, only 8 would be used to continue its military program. Mr. Bush, in turn, committed to share American technology, fuel and expertise.

Perhaps Mr. Singh, a former socialist put it best. "Thank you, Mr. President," the prime minister said. "We have made history today."

The history that he and Mr. Bush made goes well beyond the nuclear issue. Granted, India has declined to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But so has Pakistan, an ally in Mr. Bush's global campaign against terrorism. What news reports yesterday did not reveal ??? quite possibly because the officials involved in preparing the treaty chose not to disclose certain details ??? is that Prime Minister Singh gave his word to President Bush that India would not undertake a nuclear first strike against Pakistan. And Mr. Bush, who makes a pit stop in Pakistan today, is believed to have relayed private word from Pakistan's military strongman, President Musharraf, that Pakistan would also refrain from a first strike.

This is an important development because it at once opens up the possibility of American engagement in resolving the Kashmir crisis that has preoccupied India and Pakistan, both of whom claim the mountainous territory. It is a safe bet that Mr. Bush will emerge as a peace-maker for this most volatile of regions not only in South Asia, but in the world. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, and previous American presidents have been frustrated in their efforts to broker a lasting peace. The malodorous United Nations was left to deal with the task, with predictable failure each time that Kofi Annan and his diplomatic forebears tried to get the antagonists to the talking table.

A third reason that Mr. Bush made history yesterday with his nuclear pact is that it immediately opens up the gates for a flood of American private-sector investment in the Indian economy. More than 15% of Indian's annual budget goes into its conventional military program, and another 10% goes surreptitiously into its nuclear weapons development. For Pakistan, the percentile figures are even higher. Both countries were part of the same Subcontinental and cultural womb until 1947, when the departing British colonialists capriciously partitioned Mother India into theocratic Pakistan and secular India. The struggle over Kashmir started the moment the British left, and both countries have expended billions on mutual hostilities ??? or preparations for hostilities. Much less has been spent on the Subcontinent's real need ??? economic growth to bring prosperity to impoverished masses. Foreign investors have held back not only because of the socialism that infected India's political system, but also on account of uncertainty over the end-use of their funds.

Now Mr. Bush has sent a clear signal not only to the American business community, but also to investors everywhere. Yes, he declared yesterday, yes ??? India has now officially been welcomed into the global nuclear club. And yes, Mr. Bush said, let the money and technology flow ??? and what you will soon see is an infant nuclear creature transformed into a world-class economic power. "I'm trying to think differently, not stay stuck in the past," Mr. Bush said yesterday. He did more than that in New Delhi yesterday. He launched India into a new growth phrase where national poverty will be relegated into the past. He has assured the world community that India will never be a renegade nuclear state because America will join the world community in supervising its civilian and nuclear programs. And he assured for himself the permanent gratitude of more than a sixth of the world's population. Not a bad day's work for an American president.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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