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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

Happy Birthday India

20 August 2007

India and Pakistan just celebrated their 60th birthdays this week. For fast-rising India, it was a justifiably joyous event. In sharp contrast, military-ruled Pakistan, which faces growing internal tensions or even civil war, had very little to celebrate.

Over 1 billion Indians feted their nation’s zesty economy, cutting edge IT technology, growing influence, and pride in being the world’s most populous democracy.

Indians are bursting with confidence, but it often borders on hubris. India’s economy is still only two thirds that of Canada. But once totally self-absorbed and self-isolated, India has opened its markets and mind to the outside world.

India, however, remains a giant with feet of clay. A majority of Indians subsist on fifty cents daily. Urban India with 200 million westernized citizens is booming. By contrast, rural India remains desperately poor, with public health is as bad as in black Africa. The pernicious caste system, India’s ancient form of social apartheid, keeps 180 million untouchables in permanent serfdom despite government efforts to end this scourge.

India’s understandable but overly-eager quest for respect and great power status has led Delhi to lavish tens of billions on nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, and an arsenal of modern weapons for its 1.3 million-man armed forces - while tens of millions of its citizens still sleep in the streets and lack toilettes.

India has every right to develop powerful conventional and strategic forces. Over the past 60 years, India fought three wars against Pakistan, and one against China, both of whom are hostile and nuclear-armed.

But why is India, still among the world’s poorest nations, building a range of hugely expensive strategic weapons it clearly does not really need?

More important, why is the Bush Administration about to supply India with nuclear fuel and technology, and has blessed Delhi’s hitherto `rogue’ nuclear weapons program, when India is developing long-ranged missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to North America?

India has been covertly developing a 12,000 km-ranged intercontinental ballistic missile, `Surya-2,’ under cover of its civilian space program’s heavy space launchers, PSLV and GSLV. According to India’s space agency, `Surya’s targets will be Europe and the US.’

India’s existing `Prithvi’ and `Agni-III’ missiles cover almost all of Pakistan and China. India has no earthly reason to fire nuclear weapons at Europe or Japan. India’s 12,000 km `Surya’ ICBM has only two logical targets, the United States or Australia.

Why is Delhi spending a maharaja’s ransom on these strategic systems? Great power prestige? Possible war with the US to control oil from the Gulf, Central Asia and Indonesia? It’s hard to fathom Delhi’s strategic thinking.

India is deploying aircraft carriers and surface combatants to project power throughout the Indian Ocean, a vast body of water Delhi considers `mare nostrum.’ India’s fast-growing navy will operate from the coast of East Africa and the Mozambique Channel to Australia’s west coast. Its primary operating zone straddles main oil tanker routes from the Gulf.

India’s Navy is building a nuclear-powered submarine, and new sea-launched `Sagarika’ ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. It is deploying powerful 300-km range `BrahMos’ anti-ship cruise missiles designed to sink aircraft carriers and large warship. China’s modest navy cannot operate in the Indian Ocean because it lacks air cover. The only non-Indian navy operating carriers and large warships in the Indian Ocean is the US Navy.

An argument can be made for India’s missile-firing submarines. They form an indestructible third leg of a nuclear triad. But ICBM’s for a nation where 50% of its children under three suffer malnutrition, and polio, dengue fever, and TB are on the rise?

The Bush Administration has been so eager to draw India into a nuclear pact in order to exert political leverage over Delhi and enlist it as an ally against China and Iran that it has totally ignored the potential threat to US security posed by India’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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