The new Trump administration understands the importance of strong Indo-US ties but should not adopt any kind of “transactional approach” when it comes to this relationship, a top Indian-American official in the previous government has said.
“This administration, like the past administration understands and sees the value and the importance of strong ties between the United States and India,” former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal told PTI.
Under the Obama Administration, India-US relationship made a lot of progress, in particularly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, she said.
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“I think we made a lot of progress in that direction, but there’s more to be done by both sides. By the United States, in creating a clear, unequivocal and irreversible set of commitments to India in terms of our investment in India’s capabilities. And by India, in creating a clear and long-term commitment to working together on those issues,” Biswal said, as she cautioned against adopting a transactional approach to such an important relationship.
“A transactional approach would be just about what you can acquire commercially at what time period for, with no real commitments on either side to do anything more. But, the kinds of capabilities that we’re talking about are not short-term, one off capabilities. They are actually part of comprehensive and complex systems,” she said.
“If you’re going to create a system, you want to create the kind of overall doctrine that will then guide that system,” she said in response to a question.
The recent visit of Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar went quite well, said Biswal, who was Obama’s point person for South and Central Asia.
Jaishankar was here last week for a few days during which he met the Secretary of State, the Commerce Secretary, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the National Security Advisor to US President Donald Trump.
“It (the visit) was well received. He had very high-level meetings and they were very warm and cordial and receptive and responsive to the issues the Foreign Secretary wanted to discuss,” Biswal said, hoping that the visit would certainly create new opportunities to do things and strengthen the relationship.
However, she noted that the structure, shape and the scope of the relationship will depend in many ways on how the administration itself comes together on the contours of its foreign policy priorities and approaches.
“That, I think is still too early to tell because so many of the institutions and the individuals that are part of a broad-based and comprehensive partnership,” Biswal said.
“So many of those institutions are still finding their footing in the new administration. So many of the key positions for managing those ties are still vacant. And many of the inter agency processes and bilateral dialogues have yet to really take shape,” Biswal said.
“So, in that sense it’s very early days. But the early indications are certainly at the senior levels of government that they understand the importance of US, India ties and are willing to give time and attention to that,” she said.
Biswal said the support for having that kind of an institutional relationship is strong within all branches of the US government.
“But, what concerns me is that the political leadership has seemed somewhat haphazard and somewhat transactional in its approaches to key foreign policy issues and questions,” Biswal rued.
“What has concerned me as well I think, is that the institutions that are so deeply invested in this relationship, that those institutions themselves seem to be carrying less way, less influence and may be potentially being eroded or undermined in terms of their own position and standing in this government. That I think would be very unfortunate if that were to be the case,” Biswal said.
On issue of Compassion International, she said the issue will certainly raise concerns both in the administration and in the US Congress.
Describing this as “a complex issue”, the former top American diplomat said the Obama Administration worked very hard to try to find a way forward and to try and create some clarity and some transparency on this.
“During the final weeks of the Obama administration, we weren’t able to resolve some of the challenges in terms of how the Indian administration was viewing the activities and partnerships that Compassion had and how Compassion was viewing some of their requirements that the Indian government was making of it,” she noted.
Biswal said there are nuances and complexities on both sides that the other is failing to appreciate and understand.
It could have been workable, had there been an approach by both parties to try to find that common ground to kind of work through those issues, she said.
“So I regret that that did not happen, but I would caution against too simplistic a reading of that,” she said.
“I think it will face some concerns. Those are concerns that India and the Indian government is going to have to try to work through and address. Particularly as it pertains to the operation of NGO’s who have foreign sources of funding,” she said,
Biswal said there needs to be a very transparent and straight forward approach for those organizations to be able to operate and to be able to know what their requirements are under the law.