These events will give a sinister colouring to the upcoming parliamentary elections. Analysts in New Delhi speak of a growing chaos in the political system fuelled by an ideological "crisis at the top", and even of the authorities losing control of the country.
This backstaging of national security priorities in the largest South Asian country is due to a number of factors.
1) One is an intellectual crisis caused by a delay in the change of generations in Indian policy and the political elite, and doubts that a weakening United States can help India withstand China's geoeconomic influence. The American-Indian nuclear agreement is viewed as a screen hiding differences between various sections of the elite regarding India's foreign policy strategy.
India is witnessing a new development - growing public support for "traditionalist" forces (Bharatiya Janata Party), which have opted for development (maximum employment and acceptable property gaps) with 10% economic growth.
2) The Indian National Congress (INC) is seeking a "painless" replacement of generations within its ranks to install Rahul Gandhi, son of the party's leader, who is reluctant to assume leadership.
3) There has been no end of hostilities between India and Pakistan despite Manmohan Singh's efforts over his four years in office. NATO forces in Afghanistan attacking north-western Pakistan ostensibly to destroy Bin Laden's supporters may sour Indian-Pakistani relations. Some of Pakistan's generals view the latest American-Indian agreement as a move to encircle Pakistan. Pakistan's commander-in-chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, supported by the authorities, president and prime minister, warned NATO that Pakistan would deal ruthlessly with any border violations.
4) The Indian establishment's intellectual dependence on the United States makes it take impulsive steps undermining India's foreign policy strategy. New Delhi plans to join a "union of four democracies", or "eastern NATO" (the US, Japan, India and Australia), has uncertain positions on America's global missile defence shield, and hesitates over building an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. (Beijing has proposed extending the basic line to China through Pakistan to settle all doubts).
5) India has no formulated strategy on Afghanistan. A recent explosion at the Indian Embassy in Kabul shows that India risks becoming a target of the Afghan resistance movement's subversive attacks on NATO troops. The situation reached boiling point when Logar Governor Abdullah Wardak was killed on September 13. The world press sees it as the inability of the US and its NATO partners to protect even those who are loyal to them.
Indian-American relations have been an apple of discord over the years in India and are increasingly coming under public criticism.
To begin with, by seeking approval for the Indian-American nuclear deal, the INC government is going to change the status quo that has existed for the past 34 years, starting with India's first nuclear device detonated in 1974.
Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland have already expressed concern that a country not signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons could get hold of sensitive technologies. On September 6, Beijing announced its intention to involve another South Asian nuclear power and its long-standing ally, Pakistan, in a similar process.
At the same time, BJP president Rajnath Singh has charged the government that the Indian-American nuclear deal will ban India from carrying out nuclear tests, and that public opinion was not warned of this in advance (Prime Minister Singh, speaking in parliament, claimed that India would not forego its natural right to nuclear tests.) The BJP leadership believes the agreement will strip India of its nuclear power status.
Indian Communists and other left-wing parties have been even more blunt: they say India is facing a winding up of its nuclear research programme and serious restrictions on dual-purpose technologies. The Indian Left are particularly emphatic on the freezing (as a result of the agreement with the US) of a vital thorium programme, where India leads Russia, France and the US.
The Indian elites have become divided into those who support the country's nuclear status and nuclear club membership acquired in 1974, and those that believe that with current economic growth America's backing will help India to keep its sovereignty (even if it accepts non-proliferation rules) and the standards of living enjoyed by its middle class. (The credibility of an American shield has not been discussed in India yet.)
The US overall strategy towards India boils down to three points, according to diplomats and experts in New Delhi. Firstly, it is the shaping of a US-India-Israel "strategic triangle", a project going on since the early 1990s. One of its aims is to curb Iran's regional role, on the one hand, and to help Israel out of its geopolitical isolation (with India's aid), on the other. Secondly, Washington hopes that the nuclear deal will turn America into the main supplier of military equipment for India. Thirdly, following the August events in the Caucasus, the Americans are pressing for India to distance itself from Russia in Central Asia as much as possible. To oust Russia from Central Asia, according to some Indian observers, is one of Washington's key strategic objectives in Eurasia in the wake of the South Ossetian war.
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