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The Indian American who is guiding US foreign policy

May 17, 2013 18:30 IST

In the four months since his inauguration as the only Indian American in Congress and the first Indian-American member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the history of the community’s immigrant experience, Dr Ami Bera is fast emerging as a foreign policy hand with his probing questions to the likes of Secretary of State John F Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert O Blake and several other witnesses who have appeared before this committee.

There is also no denying that since his advent as not only the single Indian American on Capitol Hill, but also the only Indian-American physician ever elected to Congress, Bera has emphasized the importance of the envisaged US-India strategic partnership and the role and contributions of the community more than all of the India Caucus members put together in the last decade.

He has been coherent and articulate in his questioning and opening remarks, and in particular got senior administration officials on the record over issues like India’s critical role in the stabilization of Afghanistan and South Asia in the wake of the anticipated withdrawal of United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops from that war-ravaged country in 2014.

Last month, he nudged Kerry to acknowledge that the recent trilateral negotiations between the US, Afghanistan and India to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan as the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan begins as yet another recognition of India’s critical role in helping maintain these goals and the stability and economics of South Asia.

He pressed Kerry on the progress of the negotiations, his thoughts on how the gains and the safety would be maintained in Afghanistan, and his perspective on India’s role in helping develop an economy in Afghanistan.

Kerry responded, “India can play a huge role, and I have been a big time believer in India’s capacity to be an enormously important partner in a number of different things.”

Recalling taking the first trade mission to India in the 1990s, Kerry said, “I’ve always believed because of their democracy, because of their traditions, are great reasons for us to partner with India in many significant ways.”

But, he said, “India and Pakistan obviously have a very different relationship and so it’s a very complicated circle between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India -- how much India is in Afghanistan affects Pakistan’s views and they each have a capacity to see bad things happening depending on what the other does. So, we have to work on that diligently.”

Before this, Bera led the discussion on a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for the Asia and Pacific hearing on ‘The Rebalance to Asia: Why South Asia Matters.’

Serving as the ranking Democrat, he emphasized the importance of the US-India relationship to the American economy and to stability in South Asia.

He came to the hearing armed with statistics, and pointed out, “Economically, we clearly see the opportunities and a robust trading relationship with India is vital as we start to accelerate our economic recovery and start to create jobs here at home.”

“In fact, in my home state of California, exports to India are worth over $3.7 annually,” Bera added.

He cited Department of Agriculture products in making his point about the importance of agricultural exports, and said, “Opening up India’s markets and services certainly are very strategic for us.”

Bera went on to once again argue how India’s strategic partnership with the US affected not only the bilateral relationship, but also regionally.

“We are establishing deeper relationships with other nations throughout Asia using India as a strategic partner,” he said. “Our own interests in promoting regional stability make it imperative that the US participate along with India in these regional organizations as well.”

And once again, he highlighted India’s critical role during and after withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and in helping anchor the stability of Southeast Asia.

He informed the lawmakers, “The United States is depending on India to serve as the regional economic anchor and a provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.”

Aziz Haniffa