IT TOOK INDIA AND THE United States more than three years to conclude a landmark civilian nuclear energy cooperation pact, and during this entire period, the Indian strategic and political elites were consumed by their obsession with the nuclear deal.1 From the country's decision to initiate a nuclear program, to the relationship between its civilian and military aspects, to the decision on signing or rejecting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), every aspect of the nuclear question has been debated threadbare.2 The obsession continues even now with a vigorous debate about whether the nuclear deal forecloses India's options vis-à-vis nuclear weapons testing. It is indeed a very significant agreement as it ends India's isolation from the global high-technology regime and integrates India into the global nuclear order. Without the ability to interact freely with all major powers economically and technologically, India will not be able to have a foreign policy that will make it an effective player in the emerging geopolitical environment. However, amid debates about the ramifications of the deal, discussions have tended to focus on the pact's pros and cons rather than a broader strategic agenda designed to reflect India's rising political capital.
Nuclear weapons do retain their relevance in international politics, but there is a clear realization that they are primarily political instruments and not weapons of war. India's nuclear doctrine of minimum credible deterrence - which involves a commitment to not striking first and developing second strike capabilities - serves its interests well in the near to medium term.3 Nonetheless, after having played its cards effectively by preserving its nuclear autonomy and gaining recognition as a de facto nuclear weapons state, the time has now come for India to move on and focus on the broader strategic realities confronting the nation at a time when it is advancing in the global interstate hierarchy.
The biggest challenge for India remains that of continuing to achieve the rates of economic growth that it has enjoyed in recent years. Everything else is of secondary importance. China has been enjoying double digit growth rates for the last two decades while the Indian story is not even a decade old. India's real GDP has surged by an annual average of nearly 9 percent in the last five years, and it is on track to emerge as the fastest growing economy in the world in 2008-13, with an average annual expansion of 6.3 percent.4 Unless India can sustain this momentum, its larger foreign policy ambitions cannot be realized. India needs steady economic growth for the next decade or so with little disruption in regional and global peace, to be able to convert its global aspirations into reality.
The economic reforms process, however, has virtually come to a standstill over the last five years and this could have some serious long-term consequences. Opposition from the Communist Parties and leftist elements within the ruling Congress Party itself ensured that the government, though headed by Manmohan Singh, who crafted first generation of reforms in the early 1 990s as a former finance minister, could not undertake any meaningful second generation reforms such as targeting of subsidies, making public expenditure efficient, instituting tax and legal reforms, and restructuring the rural sector. In fact, in the current climate of financial turmoil and the economic downturn around the world, it would be difficult for any Indian government to pursue meaningful reform measures. Defying initial expectations that India could remain immune from the global economic slowdown, the Indian economy witnessed a fall in growdi last year, with the Asian Development Bank warning that India's large fiscal imbalance poses daunting challenges of economic management for the nation in the coming years.5