At a time when the Nepalese media gets bombarded with revelation of fact that in the past Nepal had to experience frequent interference in her domestic affairs from one of her neighbors, elaboration of a policy on bilateral nuclear cooperation by India’s ex- foreign secretary lends credence to apprehension that our neighborhood is fraught with danger. Shyam Sharan, a former ambassador of India to Nepal and an architect of Indo-US Civil Nuclear Co-operation Agreement (2005-08) then in the capacity of foreign secretary has been quoted by “Foreign Policy” saying “The above agreement reflects strategic convergence between India and the U.S.”
According to a feature titled “Countdown to Zero Dollars” (August , 2012) by Tom Hundley carried by the bi-monthly magazine Shyam Sharan has further clarified Indian’s motives behind the signing of the controversial nuclear accord. His reaction has come to the growing frustration expressed by the American corporate society, whose powerful lobbyists played a decisive role in convincing then recalcitrant Congress to approve the agreement, which some believe is tilted more towards India.
In Hundley’s opinion the U.S. business community, which was euphoric four years ago now feels cheated seeing the barrier of liability law to the inflow of nuclear investment to India. That law was enacted in the aftermath of conclusion of 2008 nuclear agreement and in the drafting of which the Indian lawmakers were very much mindful of Bhopal industrial catastrophe in 1986 killing thousands of people.
Haunted by Bhopal disaster in which coincidentally the American company Union Carbide was involved, the Indian Liability Law has been made stiff requiring not only plant operators but also suppliers and manufacturers to be held liable for losses in the event of a similar accident.
In trying to respond to the prospective American investors’ worries, who have been frustrated at the lack of opportunities in India considering the implementation of rigorous liability law for supplying nuclear fuel and power reactors, Shyam Sharan recalls that a deal similar to 2008 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement would hardly have been possible without the convergence of Indo-US interests. To quote him on this front as per Foreign Policy article, “Even if we are not allies, we have similar concerns and attitudes regarding the emergence of China not as a threat, but as a challenge. Like it or not we both have to deal with it”.
What is corroborated from the above statement is increasing inclination to establish strategic cooperation between India and the U.S. and this development is likely to cause more tension in South Asia, a region very much characterized by constant adversarial relationship between the neighbors especially India and Pakistan. Relations between these two arch rivals have hopefully not ebbed to its low as compared to 2008 when Mumbai terrorist attacks were blamed on terrorists reportedly sheltered in Pakistani territory. Leveling accusation of sponsoring terrorism has been almost a routine affair and historic animosity related to Kashmir dispute has not disappeared.
Against such climate of mistrust and suspicion the reaction of Pakistan to India’s revelation of strategic convergence being the primary motivation in concluding nuclear accord cannot be but discomforting, which is no less made explicit by Maria Sultan, Director of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, Islamabad.
As quoted by Tom Hundley in his Foreign Policy piece, she has said with reference to Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, “It creates a new category of nuclear weapons state—-one with all benefits of the NPT, but with no safeguards on weapons”.
India’s former Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor compares Indian success in overcoming the obstacles of nuclear non-proliferation rules applied by a group of countries that supply nuclear fuel and material to “Indian exception”. It was the administration of George W. Bush which arm twisted the 45 nations belonging to Nuclear Suppliers Group to extract a country-specific concession that could have barred India from becoming a beneficiary of foreign supplied nuclear fuel and technology on the valid ground that India remains outside the regime of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In the opinion of above Indian minister, India has simultaneously obtained two benefits e.g. joining the privileged nuclear club (current five permanent members of UN Security Council are acknowledged nuclear powers of the world) and receiving the benefits of a non-nuclear NPT member even without membership of nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The U.S. investors grumbling over the imposition of liability law leading to the reduced chances of supplying nuclear power reactors with attendant nuclear fuel nevertheless, India has now attracted leading French and Russian nuclear suppliers and manufacturers like Areva and Rosatom as the Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement has removed the embargo on supplying nuclear fuel and technology to the country. It is exactly the reason India has been able to aggressively push for rapid expansion of nuclear industry to meet its burgeoning energy demands. Undisputedly, India along with China tops the list of countries operating nuclear power reactors a fact supported by the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Expansion of nuclear industry which is least prone to carbon emission, the leading factor to rising global temperatures, in our neighborhood has both gains and risks to Nepal. She stands to benefit if nuclear energy development progresses and thereby causes significant reduction in carbon emissions in the atmosphere although she cannot afford to vie for such cleaner energy due to technological, scientific and financial reasons. But such indirect environmental benefits will not come without any risks and in Nepal’s case such risks will likely be twofold.
In the light of past experience of nuclear accidents and the latest the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (March 11, 2011), Nepal has genuine concerns about the possibility of nuclear accidents as she has close neighbors playing host to a growing number of nuclear power reactors. Ominously, if accidents occur either in India, or in China, or in Pakistan, Nepal will become the victim of catastrophe including leakage of radioactive materials. Our proximity to nuclear plants in India in particular will threaten our health more seriously because of radiation effect.
More important the so-called convergence of strategic interests between India and the U.S. and their perceived alliance to counter the challenge of China as expounded by no other than a former foreign secretary will only add complexity to the security of a region beset by wars between neighbors. Such scenario reasonably makes us more apprehensive. Are we aware of likely ramifications is a question that should deserve serious attention from the policy makers.