‘Dispelling the Spooks about Nukes’---II

IN Media Monitoring | 13/09/2005
‘Dispelling the Spooks about Nukes’---II

 

 

 

 

While raising vital questions of nuclear proliferation, it is interesting that not one Pakistani newspaper commentator wrote about Pakistan’s record in this field.

 

 

 

 

In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This is the second part of an analysis of the  comparative coverage of the same events in India and Pakistan in July. A Panos funded project on the Hoot.

 

 

Subarno Chattarji

 

 

This part looks at media representations in India and Pakistan of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

 

 

Plea for parity:

Ghayoor Ahmed’s ‘India’s quest for nuclear status’ (Dawn, July 31) made a specious distinction between the two country’s nuclear policies and went on to plea for parity: ‘whereas India’s quest for nuclear status is aimed at fulfilling its long-held ambition to be a regional hegemon and a major global power, Pakistan’s perspective on this issue is rather different. Pakistan, […] had concentrated on the nuclear option, much against its will […] The United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council should, therefore, take a realistic view of the ground realities and recognize both Pakistan and India as de jure nuclear states in the interests of peace, security and stability in the region […]’ The argument here is that only the granting of nuclear status will enable Pakistan to keep the balance of peace in the region, since India is a hegemonic and irresponsible power. Pakistan’s desire for parity with India, a fiction furthered by US policy, is similar to India’s desire for a UNSC seat, or parity with China, or as a strategic counter to China.

 

Indo-US nuclear agreement and fears of nuclear proliferation in Pakistan media:

Pakistan media response to the Indo-US nuclear agreement was often not separated or separable from its reactions to the ten-year defence agreement between the two countries. While there was heartburn over the proposed sale of military hardware such as the Patriot Advanced Capability- 3 (PAC 3) to India, concern over the nuclear deal centred on questions of nuclear proliferation.

 

In ‘US advised to be cautious: N-technology for India’ (Dawn, July 16), the correspondent cited Michael Krepon and Ziad Haider of the Stimson Center and their study ‘Changing the rules of nuclear commerce.’ They ‘argue that a relaxation of the international rules for nuclear commerce "could do more harm than good unless President Bush and Prime Minister Singh can implement good ideas to strengthen global norms against proliferation"’.

 

In an editorial, ‘US-India nuclear deal’ (July 22) Dawn averred that ‘the deal virtually amounts to America’s recognition of India as a nuclear power’ and that ‘if America goes ahead with the deal, Moscow and Beijing would be tempted to enter into similar agreements with other states that have nuclear ambitions’. This raises the bogey of nuclear proliferation and an arms race, both of which are plausible, but it does so in a historical vacuum, ignoring US supply of arms to Pakistan over decades and Pakistan’s own role in the proliferation of nuclear technology.

 

Khalid Hasan’s ‘US-India N-tech-sharing decision faces Congressional opposition’ (Daily Times, July 20), cited critics within the US such as Leonard Spector and Edward J. Markey. Markey said, ‘"Why should the United States sell controlled nuclear goods to India? We cannot play favourites, breaking the rules of the non-proliferation treaty to favour one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons."’ Hasan also cites Ashley Tellis, the poster boy of increased defence cooperation between India and the US. He points to the effect this pact will have within Pakistan: ‘The decision is also going to have an adverse effect on the already negative image held on a popular, public level in Pakistan.’ Hasan mentions the crucial disconnect between elite cooperation with the US in its war on terror and ground level discontent and anger against that war. In fact the broadsheets in Pakistan reflected some of that anger in conveying a sense of having been betrayed by the US.

 

Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation:

While raising the very vital questions of nuclear proliferation, it is interesting that not one Pakistani commentator in the broadsheets under survey wrote about Pakistan’s record in this field. Given numerous references to the ways in which de facto nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea might take advantage of the Indo-US deal (for example, ‘Indian PM makes jibe at Pakistan,’ Dawn, July 20), and Abdul Qadir Khan’s role in the proliferation of nuclear technology, this omission is striking. There were, however, two articles that dealt with the issue.

 

‘A new nuclear era’ (Dawn, July 21) was syndicated from The Washington Post. It enumerated some of India’s advantages over Pakistan from the US point of view: ‘As an emerging Asian superpower, India may serve as a counterweight to China. As home to a large and tolerant Muslim population, it may serve as an ally against Islamic militancy.’ The idea of India as a strategic counterweight to China is an article of faith among neo-conservatives in the US, but is patently absurd given asymmetries of power. In fact, the Post article downplays India’s possible future role as ‘America’s satrap’ in the region: ‘India […] would probably stand aside in other potential U.S.-China rows that do not affect Indian interests.’ The reference to the ‘tolerant Muslim population’ has some truth but it overlooks recent inter-religious violence in India where Muslims have suffered.

 

It then addresses Pakistan’s desire for parity: ‘Pakistan, […] will seek a similar de facto blessing for its nuclear status. Given Pakistan’s record as a nuclear proliferator, the United States ought to refuse this. A rebuff could help to turn Pakistan’s anti-India nationalism into an anti-India-and-America nationalism; pro-Western secularists may lose ground to militant Islamists.’ The Post mentions both Iran and North Korea but distinguishes India from both on grounds of the transparency and steadfastness of its non-proliferation record. What is crucial here is the way in which an accord between India and the US is seen to affect internal configurations of power within Pakistan.

 

The second piece that mentioned Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation record was by Strobe Talbott, ‘Good day for India, bad day for non-proliferation’ (Daily Times, July 25). Talbott’s role in the establishment of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with India is well known. He is blunt about the difference between Pakistan and India in terms of nuclear proliferation: ‘Unlike Pakistan, which has been called the Wal-Mart of illicit commerce in dangerous technology, India has been careful not to let its nuclear material and know-how fall into the wrong hands.’ Talbott, however, sees US and Indian unilateralism as threats to the future of the UN and the NPT and thinks that the nuclear deal is ‘short-sighted’ leading to ‘a more dangerous world’. This clarity and balance are rare in media articles in both countries and was on display in several pieces in the Daily Times.

 

Out-of-the-box analyses:

Former Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmad Khan’s ‘Indo-US defence framework’ (Daily Times, July 22) is a notable exception to the jingoism and fear mongering available in most media commentary in Pakistan. Khan notes: ‘Except a hiccup or two in 1998 caused by India’s nuclear tests, Washington’s engagement with New Delhi over the last decade has been qualitatively different from that with Pakistan.’ There is none of the surprised outrage expressed by other commentators neither is there alarm: ‘The new dynamic injected into South Asia by the Indo-US defence pact would become less alarming as India and Pakistan make tangible progress towards a settlement. It would enable India to embrace the century’s hyper power without compromising its sovereignty and free Pakistan of the historical threat to its security.’

 

Khan does not perceive the Indo-US pact as necessarily jeopardizing bilateral talks between India and Pakistan. The two can co-exist and free both from their respective anxieties. He does not shy away from realities such as the fact that the ‘historical threat’ to Pakistan has been India, but argues that a stronger India may actually negotiate peace in more equitable terms. The validity of this formulation has not been tested as yet, but Khan represents a welcome attempt to think outside the box of Indo-Pak jingoism and platitudes.

 

Jonathan Power in a syndicated editorial, ‘Bush starts to get it right on India’s nuclear status’ (Daily Times, July 29 2005) traces a history of US ‘mistakes’ in dealing with India, particularly during the Carter presidency. He expresses an opinion not available in any of the broadsheets being surveyed: ‘The new policy has all the advantages of jettisoning hypocrisy. The next step, which logically should grow from it, would be to revise the Non-Proliferation Treaty to make India formally one of the established nuclear powers, and thus gain India’s membership of the Treaty. Then India’s immense diplomatic energies could be harnessed to the battle of ensuring that other countries are not pushed towards the bomb by the double-standards of the nuclear haves.’ While ‘the double-standards of the nuclear haves’ is evident, Power seems to advocate a legitimization of India’s status so that it can exercise the discrimination it was subjected to. One set of double-standards seems to be replaced by another.

 

Indian media and the nuclear deal:

Skepticism amongst the nuclear establishment in India:

With the visit of Dr. Singh to the US, media focus in India shifted to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Siddharth Varadarajan’s ‘Nuclear cooperation with U.S.: experts urge caution’ (Hindu, 18 July) anticipated problems that a deal would create. It cited Dr. A. N. Prasad, former director of the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), who believes that separating military and civilian facilities is not feasible. There was also an emphasis on national pride: ‘At no point should India "compromise the basic strength so relentlessly built over the years under heavy odds"’. The article treats Dr. Prasad’s words as gospel truth and describes a closed world of experts where international inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are unwelcome.

 

After the agreement, Prasad declared, ‘"It is totally against the national interest"’ and that ‘Only those who have worked on advanced nuclear research know the harmful effect intrusive inspections can have’ (Siddharth Varadarajan, ‘Nuclear bargain may prove costly in the long run,’ Hindu, 20 July). Varadarajan presents the privileged insider’s world of the nuclear scientist in India with little or no accountability. Dr. Prasad’s main grouse seems to be that IAEA inspections will be intrusive and that the US has few or no inspections. There is also a fear of dependence for nuclear fuel on the US and a nationalist subtext in the way fast breeder reactors are seen as the solution to India’s nuclear energy quests.

 

In an opinion piece on 29 July Varadarajan repeated his fears that the nuclear deal involved hidden costs, particularly vis-à-vis the Iran gas pipeline, and used the redoubtable Ashley Tellis to bolster his argument. He wrote: ‘And let it [the government] say openly that nuclear deal or not, India will continue to work for global disarmament and has no desire to play the role of a "hedge", fence or "tether" in the U.S. plan to contain China’ (‘The truth behind the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal’). While the reference to ‘global disarmament’ is unexceptionable, Varadarajan repeats the absurdity of the neo-con doctrine that India can tether China.

 

Mistrust of the US in India:

Harish Khare in an opinion piece on the implications of the deal was equally cautionary: ‘Foreign policy deals must not be done in secret, they must be open and democratic’ (‘Selling the United States of America in India,’ Hindu, 21 July). This is an ideal worth pursuing and highlights the disjunction in democracies between the rulers and the ruled but one wonders how far it is practically tenable. He went on to write: ‘And, let there be no mistake, notwithstanding the preferences in the so-called strategic community in this country, the national sentiment remains strangely reluctant to trust the U.S. to wish this country well in the long run.’ ‘National sentiment’ is a vague term and Khare does not define how it is measured, unless media distrust is one aspect of that sentiment. He also ignores a recent Pew Research Center Global Attitudes poll wherein Indians were the most positive and supportive of the US.

 

Criticism of India’s nuclear establishment:

However, Khare takes on the Indian nuclear establishment in his enumeration of where the opposition to the nuclear deal will emanate from: ‘First, the entrenched nuclear scientific establishment, which has built for itself a mythology of global competence and national commitment and as the last bastion of "national interest." From time to time, this establishment keeps on feeding the political leadership’s grandiose delusions of becoming a "superpower."’ Khare’s skepticism is in sharp contrast to Varadarajan’s privileging of the nuclear establishment voice and highlights policy and ideological distinctions within the same newspaper.

 

The official spin and positive aspects of the nuclear deal:

N. Ravi’s report ‘Nuclear deal will lead to quantum jump: Officials’ (Hindu, 21 July) attempted to place the agreement in perspective albeit by quoting unnamed officials. These functionaries disputed all the negative coverage and opinions expressed by experts. They stressed the bilateral nature of the agreement, that President Bush had expended considerable political capital on the deal, that India’s obligations would be no less or no more than other nuclear powers, and that India could negotiate an additional protocol on specific issues with IAEA.

 

This report was followed by an editorial, ‘Some caveats on a constructive deal’ (Hindu, 22 July), marked by its moderation. While it disagreed with the secrecy surrounding the deal the editorial argued that the ends justify the means: ‘In sum, the Manmohan-Bush nuclear deal is to be understood as a constructive, although clumsily non-transparent, preference exercised by the UPA Government in favour of the civilian nuclear programme.’ The latter summation followed from a crucial observation made earlier: ‘It [the nuclear deal] is probably a loss from the standpoint of the hawkish votaries of India’s post-May 1998 nuclear weaponisation, which derailed India’s long-standing policy and twisted out of shape its independent character as well as its peace and disarmament orientation.’ This reorientation of the nuclear progamme for energy requirements and its distinctiveness from the Pokhran II model is something that many analysts missed. This editorial is a notable exception in a discourse of nuclear weapons technology as a source and subtext of national pride and power.

 

Conclusions:

While Pakistan media concentrated on questions of nuclear proliferation and lamented the preference for India in US strategic planning, The Hindu in India was more interested in the details of the deal and its implications for Indian security. However, two points were largely ignored in all analyses and reports on the role of nuclear energy in ‘de-carbonising the Indian energy sector’. One is that installed capacity is only 3310 MWe and that plant load factors have actually declined. Two, that the poor power infrastructure in India including transmission and distribution losses need to be overhauled if nuclear power plants are to make a difference.

 

 

Subarno Chattarji teaches English at the university of Delhi and frequently analyses media coverage for the Hoot. Contact: chattarji_s@yahoo.com

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