Gave you heard of the Albanian syndrome? Perhaps not! Even though it is not yet catalogued officially by world-renowned psychologists, it has been in existence for a long time. The syndrome appeared in full scale at the end of the 90'swhen wave after wave of migrants arrived from Albania to seek refuge in Italy. The New York Times wrote in November 1998: ?Italy Is Swamped by New Waves of Boat People.? These ?clandestine? or illegal aliens were fleeing the political unrest and economic starvation in their own country.
Italian authorities thought that the migrants would apply for asylum in the European Union. But when interrogated, the boat-people unanimously declared that they were not interested to stay in Italy or France; they all wanted to go to the United States. Point-blank they refused the European offers. It is what I call the Albanian syndrome, this idea that the US is the only El Dorado on planet earth.
The syndrome (it is probably a virus) is much more widespread that you may believe. From day one of the UPA regime, it has infected the Manmohan Singh government. The symptoms: Delhi has never lost an opportunity to run to ?America?, but has there been any reciprocity?
The ?US? nuclear deal
The nuclear deal is a typical case; it demonstrates how deeply the Manmohan Singh government has been affected by the virus.
The first sign of infection appeared when Delhi termed it ?the US nuclear deal?. Why call it ?US? when the Russians and French were also lobbying for the same exemption with the IAEA in Vienna and negotiating to provide nuclear plants to India? It should have simply been called the ?nuclear deal? (politically it would have also avoided rubbing up the left the wrong way).
But the UPA government was too obsessed with ?America? and had to please the US at any cost. Soon after the nuclear deal was announced, the US President George Bush was ?kind? enough to describe India as a ?responsible state with advanced nuclear technology?. The leadership in Delhi was flattered, finally they were acknowledged by Big Brother No 1.
When President Sarkozy visited India in January 2008, the Joint Statement used the same words: ?As responsible states with advanced nuclear technologies, including in the nuclear fuel cycle, France and India are interested to promote nuclear energy with the highest standards of safety and security and in accordance with their respective nuclear policies and international obligations.? But who cares about a small country like France or for that matter, a slightly larger Russia.
The Manmohan government had forgotten that after the Pokhran nuclear tests in May 1998, France was one of the few countries which did not condemn India (or impose sanctions). This was greatly appreciated by the NDA government and when Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee visited France in October 1998, a strategic dialogue took its first concrete steps.
Early September 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers? Group authorised cooperation with India on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The Indian Prime Minister was scheduled to visit France on September 29 and 30, but Delhi did not seem fully reconciled to sign the French deal before the ?American? one. A French diplomat hinted to me that there was still some hesitancy on India'spart.
Finally, ?the US Nuclear Deal? was first signed in Paris on September 30 by Anil Kakodkar, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister of France.
Where was his Indian counterpart? He probably did not want participation in this ?lese-majesty? act.
Two weeks later, on October 10, Pranab Mukherjee rushed to Washington to ink ?a path-breaking agreement?.
The first question one can ask is why call the Washington accord ?path-breaking? in the first place, when a similar accord was earlier signed in Paris?
True, the ceremony held in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the US State Department was more impressive than the one held in the Elysee Palace which was nevertheless graced by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is a fact that no ?path-breaking? speeches were made in Paris, though France and India have a long history of close (but discreet) collaboration in the field of the peaceful use of the atom.
Being present on this ?historic? occasion, I had the feeling that the Indian government wanted to keep the event as low key as possible, to not embarrass their American friends.
A senior French diplomat told me that in any case, Paris was more interested in the ?commercial? negotiations with Avera, the French world leader in civilian atomic energy and the eventual signature of a ?concrete deal? to set up nuclear centrals in India.
However, nobody was doing a favour to India, the deal opened huge business opportunities for Washington as well as Paris and Moscow, the main players in the field?
There are may other symptoms of infection by the Albanian syndrome. One which had serious consequences for India'sdefence preparedness was the cancellation of the purchasing process for 197 helicopters for the Indian Army from the European consortium Eurocopter in December 2007.
The termination of the 600 millions dollars deal was announced by an abrupt Defence Ministry communiqu?. The spokesperson Sitanshu Kar gave no reason for the decision which had been arrived at after several long years of tenders and trials, during which the Eurocopter emerged as the front-runner for the deal. Kar just stated: ?The Government has decided to cancel the ongoing request for proposal (RFP) for procurement of 197 helicopters for the Indian Army.? Strange! Some press agencies quoting sources in the defence establishment said that the negotiations were terminated because of ?major deviations in the approved parameters of the helicopter and procedures.?
The European consortium had been selected after two years of field trials. The only concurrent in the race for the deal was Bell of the US. This explained many things. Obviously, it was difficult for the government to displease Washington.
The issue is that the Indian Army unnecessarily lost several years in its defence preparedness, at a time when the Eastern neighbour is increasingly unstable and aggressive.
A French expert, not linked with the case but who is aware of how the negotiation process usually works, was only ready to comment: ?It is incomprehensible why they did not say anything earlier?.
Whether the Albanian syndrome bugged the Defence Ministry or not, it is the Indian defence forces which suffer.
Yes, we can.
You may say, but that was during the Bush era. Everything will be different with Barak Obama. Well, it is not sure.
He certainly could, but will he?
Though Delhi is still enamoured of Washington and is ready to do anything to please the Big Brother, the new Administration is singling out India while the government remains passive. The latest example is the refusal to deliver turbines for a warship for the Indian Navy.
Ajai Shukla wrote in The Business Standard: ?If the United States ranks near the bottom amongst India'sdefence suppliers, Washington'spenchant for imposing sanctions and restrictions has much to do with it. ?The Indian Navy chose to power its indigenously designed, cutting-edge stealth warship, the INS Shivalik, with gas turbines from American company General Electric (GE). But even as the Shivalik readies for sea trials, the US State Department has ordered GE to stop all work on the turbines it has supplied.?
GE would have received instructions to stop working on two new LM 2500 gas turbines for the Shivalik. The reason given by GE is that State Department wanted 3-4 months to review its relations with some foreign countries.
As I am writing, it is not known if Delhi will take up the matter with its ?American friend?.
But there is worse.
On February 27, PTI reported: ?In a bid to address the rise of Al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, US President Barack Obama'smaiden budget presented in the Congress has proposed more military aid to the two countries. ?The State Department budget also calls to increase non-military aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan to revitalise economic development and confront the resurgence of the Taliban.? The Obama Administration officials are discussing an aid package to the tune of $5 billion for Pakistan. This is in addition to a $15 billion package spread over a decade.
Kanchan Gupta rightly said in The Pioneer: ?Mr Obama, before he moved into the White House, had rarely missed an opportunity to berate Pakistan for playing a dangerous double game; his fire-and-brimstone responses to questions about how he would deal with Islamabad if it did not deliver on its pledge to crush Islamic terrorism held out the promise of change in American policy.?
But of course one can'tcriticise friends!
(The writer is author of Tibet: The Lost Frontier [Lancer].)