Former envoy foresees ‘stable trajectory’ for New Delhi and Washington

From left, India's Ambassador to the U.S. Navtej Sarna, Rick Rossow, the Wadhwani Chair for US-India Policy Studies at CSIS, and former U.S. envoy to India Frank Wisner, at the May 14 conference “U.S. and India: From Estranged Democracies to Natural Allies” organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Indian-American community is not just indispensable to stable ties between Washington and New Delhi but the “ballast” that anchors the partnership in “rough waters,” according to Frank Wisner, former U.S. ambassador to India.

Considered the “godfather” of the U.S.-India Business Council, Wisner shared the dais with India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Navtej Sarna at the May 14 conference “U.S. and India: From Estranged Democracies to Natural Allies” organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The conference was held to mark the 20th anniversary of India’s nuclear weapons tests.

Wisner, now of counsel at Squire Patton Boggs, a leading lobbying firm that has represented the government of India and was in the forefront of pushing though the U.S.-India nuclear deal, noted the growth of Indian-Americans over time – from 3,000 Americans of Indian origin when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was in office to just under 4 million today.

“That is a powerful link and look at who we are talking about—our Ambassador to the United Nations [Nikki Haley], our Senator from California [Kamala Devi Harris],” he said. “And, if you look across the land of America, in the top ranks of our legal, medical, intellectual, academic professions and business, Indian Americans are in the front ranks. No community has given more or been more successful in our nation’s life, and no community offers more ballast when the rough waters in any relationship shape the course of the ship of a relationship. I am absolutely confident, as I look forward that the core principles under-girding the relationship, are strong and capable of weathering the differences that inevitable two nations will have in the course of any history.”

Wisner said he viewed India as a partner, not an ally, “because we have basic common interests to share – in democracy, in values.” He said the nations share security challenges, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, with Pakistan and the uncertainty in China’s growing power. “We’ve literally become India’s indispensable defense partner,” he said.

He said he foresees a stable economy for India going forward “because the Indian economy is strong and performing well—7.2 percent growth rate is pretty darn good in today’s terms.” And he was certain Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be re-elected.

The once influential diplomat-turned-business advocate-turned-lobbyist also foresees a stable trajectory for the political relations between the U.S. and India.

Wisner said he also foresaw “a stable trajectory on which Americans can think politically about our relationship with India.”

The U.S. should acknowledge, however, we are not India’s only partner and the nation may vary defense acquisitions to avoid overdependence on any defense supplier. “Our ambitions for defense cooperation will be limited by very fundamental facts—India’s budget is not everything that even India would like it to be or her chiefs of armed forces staff would like it to be,” he said.

He also acknowledged that India’s determination for stick with the Make in India program and to acquire defense products “can clash and cause great complexities,” he said.

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