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'India-US ties in good hands under President Obama'

November 09, 2012 09:47 IST
Former top diplomat Karl Inderfurth explains to's Bikash Mohapatra that India not being mentioned much during the US presidential campaign is actually a good thing

"The relationship between United States and India will be moving forward in the future."

So said Karl 'Rick' Inderfurth when asked about the bilateral relationship between the two countries in the wake of the US presidential election.

The name needs no introduction.

As the US administration's assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs between 1997 and 2001, Inderfurth was responsible for the American policy in the region, and focused extensively on India.

During his tenure, he witnessed multiple change of government in the country, the nuclear test and the Kargil war, among other events. He has gained respect as an expert when it comes to issues related to India.

When asked how the elections would impact the ties between the two countries, one the world's oldest democracy and the other the largest, the veteran diplomat seemed optimistic.

"The US policy towards India was summarised in a way at both the Democratic and Republican conventions," explained Inderfurth.

"There were certain attempts to one-up the other party about how close a partnership to have with India," he continued, adding, "But India has become a very bipartisan issue, something of a rarity in Washington".

"Both the parties, and both the presidential candidates, firmly supported a growing relationship with India, one that is now over two decades old from President (Bill) Clinton through President (George W) Bush to President (Barack) Obama."

Currently a senior advisor and the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Inderfurth said when it came to the American foreign policy decisions, the importance of India had increased considerably in the last two decades.

"The Republicans used the expression 'geo-political ally' while describing India," explained the diplomat, adding, "I believe it wasn't the right thing as India definitely won't want to be called an ally of the US, simply because that suggests a formal alliance".

"But the Reps thought it was a good way to describe India. They were also a little bit more vocal about this relationship leading to the containment of China. The Democrats simply pledged to invest in a long term strategic partnership. They have been more reticent to draw a conclusion (involving China), saying they need to pursue good relations with both the rising Asian giants," he said.

The fact that India was rarely mentioned in the campaign of both the parties did worry a few experts. However, as far as Inderfurth was concerned, it was a positive sign.

"With the exception of a few comments made by a couple of Democratic candidates on outsourcing -- which is a common and predictable thing every four years, at this time, there were no bumps on the road in terms of statements regarding India," he explained.

"It was rarely mentioned during the campaign and that was actually a good thing -- because if you are mentioned that is because there is disagreement, maybe controversy," he added.

The diplomat expressed confidence regarding the future course the two countries would take even as they pursue common goals.

"I believe the US-India relationship would be in good hands under President Obama. Having said that, the case would have been the same had Mitt Romney been elected the President," said Inderfurth, before proceeding to elaborate on his point.

"There are external factors, like what steps the President will take to improve the economy that will have an impact on India," he continued, adding, "If we don't start to get our growth rate up it will affect India, whose growth rate has also dropped significantly".

"But in terms of bilateral relationship, either candidate would have been on board with pursuing a good relationship with India. And the fact remains that the US-India relationship will be moving forward," he said.

The diplomat also expressed confidence that India would be included as a key partner while the US was dealing with Asian countries at large.

"I believe the lasting legacy of the Obama administration, during the first term, was the so-called pivot or re-balancing towards the Asia-Pacific," explained Inderfurth, adding, "Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton has been quoted as saying that the United States, for its economic, security and all other interests will be looking towards the Asia-Pacific".

"When they say Asia–Pacific, since I do have a particular focus on India, I would like to say the Indo-Pacific and would like to make sure that people recognise that India is a part of that region. And America's future is going to be increasingly focused on this part of the world and therefore, India will continue to remain important as far as the American policy is concerned," he said.

Bikash Mohapatra In Washington, DC