Karl Inderfurth, an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, is a key foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, guiding him past the landmines of America's South Asia policy. He spoke to Ashish Kumar Sen on US-India relations. Excerpts:
US-India relations blossomed under the Bush administration. What are your predictions for this relationship under President Obama?
We have seen a remarkable transformation in US-India relations in a relatively brief period of time starting under president Clinton and his visit to India in March 2000. This was accelerated under president George W. Bush. It's a very important signal that our new relationship with India is bipartisan, that there is strong support for this new direction in foreign policy. I expect and strongly believe that this upward trajectory...will be continued under President Obama.
In a recent interview, Obama said: "We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants." Is this a sign that an Obama administration would like to mediate in the Kashmir dispute?
From my reading of Obama's comments, I think more has been read into that than he intended. I can go back to what he told Outlook in July
—that the US should encourage the ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan aimed at resolving the dispute over Kashmir, that the US should be a strong supporter of this process. There have been some important backchannel discussions taking place between India and Pakistan on this issue; there have been some frontchannel discussions, most recently between the two national security advisors. That's where the action should be in terms of moving forward on the Kashmir issue through those bilateral channels. Obama will be supportive of that process, will encourage that process. We do know that if these talks are ultimately successful, it will have enormous benefits for both India and Pakistan and the region as a whole. You will see President Obama being a strong supporter of that process.
Would Obama press India on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)?
I don't see it becoming a problem. Now that we can work together on the subject of civilian nuclear power, we should see that as a way to broaden this dialogue, including areas such as ensuring that nuclear materials and expertise don't get into the wrong hands. We, with India, have an opportunity to join together with other like-minded countries to address this. Obama believes the US should ratify the CTBT. He also wants to see greater reductions in our nuclear weapons—something on which we will have to work with the Russians. These are all subjects that, in my view, the US must lead by example. If we do these things, we will be in a better position to go to other countries, including India, and say let's work together on this.
So, you think the CTBT won't be a problem for US-India relations going forward?
I don't anticipate it being a problem because we have now recognised that we are tied together on these kinds of issues and have now surmounted a major obstacle that existed for over a quarter of a century—and that was being on opposite sides of the nuclear cooperation issue. We are now partners; and that is going to open up a new area for us to deepen our relationship.
What are the likely areas in which US-India relations will grow in the near future?
Obama has made it clear, most recently in a letter to Prime Minister Singh in September, that "deepening and broadening the friendship between our countries will be a first-order priority for me in the coming years". Obama is going to see that the relationship is broadened in a number of ways, for instance, strengthening our strategic ties including our military and counter-terrorism cooperation. Clearly, the economic potential for the two countries has a great deal to add. He'd also like to work with India in combating global climate change.
What key foreign policy shifts do you anticipate in an Obama administration?
Many. Some will take longer to accomplish, but three that I could envision his taking immediately would be to first close Guantanamo and second, outlaw torture. And third, he will send a message that the US wants to take a leadership role on climate change.