MADRAS, India — The India-U.S. deal to cooperate in civil nuclear energy signed in New Delhi in March now appears set to be approved by the U.S. Congress. This will end India’s nuclear isolation, which began in 1998 when the country first tested nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Congress must amend American law to OK this pact. It seems that it will do so. U.S. President George W. Bush can then waive some provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, paving the way for civil nuclear cooperation with India, even though New Delhi has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In India the agreement has been criticized by government allies and opponents, nuclear scientists and analysts. India Left, a partner in India’s coalition government, headed by the Congress, wants such important pacts to have parliamentary approval. At present, this is not required.

The communist parties are also angry that the nuclear bill to be tabled in the U.S. Congress has a provision seeking that India help restrain Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is considered an old ally of India, and the country’s large Islamic population is an important vote bank.

India’s nuclear scientists fear that the deal could provoke a nuclear-arms race in the region. Homi Sethna, a former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, has said that New Delhi would be better off signing the NPT.

In the United States, experts are livid that this accord is about to sail through Congress at a time when the world is trying to stop North Korea and Iran from pursuing their nuclear ambitions.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says that the nuclear pact will help the country’s energy needs. But his detractors argue that nuclear energy will contribute a mere 4 percent of India’s total needs even by 2020. They see an American ploy here to garner contracts for its nuclear industry.

Bush is certain that the agreement is good for global warming, for friendship with the world’s largest democracy and for jobs in America. Well, these points are debatable. But Bush’s contention that the deal will help fight nuclear-weapons proliferation is hard to believe. The NPT has helped prevent a number of states from going nuclear, and encouraged some that tried (Argentina and Brazil) and others that had succeeded (South Africa) to turn back.

The NPT rests on a very fundamental issue: Only those countries that have given up their nuclear-weapons program can hope to get civilian nuclear help.

India, which has not joined the NPT but has built nuclear bombs, is now about to succeed in getting American cooperation on civil nuclear energy. Nobody can deny that New Delhi, once the leader of the non-aligned movement and still professing to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s loft ideals of peace and non-violence, is setting a bad example. Now other countries, such as North Korea and Iran, can cite the Indian example.

Admittedly, India is a democracy with a history of stable government leadership. But does that still make it eligible to have bombs and get civil nuclear pacts at the same time?

India has agreed to separate its civil and weapons program, and this will be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But critics point out that it will not be very difficult for India to divert civil nuclear technology to expand its bomb arsenal. New Delhi did precisely this when it was taking the steps that led to its first nuclear explosion in 1974.

The U.S. Congress understands all this and is even worried about it. But it will still OK the pact: India’s rapidly expanding market, fueled by a swelling middle class with growing money power and disposable income, is too attractive for American industry to overlook. Markets in most other parts of the world are saturated, with income levels falling and populations graying.

In the final scheme of things, New Delhi may think that it has played its cards well to clinch the pact. But this pact will be to the detriment of a world where states are looking for every opportunity to make nuclear bombs or sell material for those wanting to build nuclear arsenals. No doubt, India stands guilty on this count.

America, which fancies itself as both the world policeman and judge, deserves even more criticism. By agreeing to this accord it has thrown open the door to further nuclear proliferation. What will prevent China, for instance, from helping Pakistan and even North Korea to pursue their nuclear-weapons programs?

Will the U.S. Congress have the nerve to turn around and reject the nuclear deal with India?

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