India Must Be Economic Buffer to US in Afghanistan: Ami Bera

Indian economy

Rep. Ami Bera (left), D-Calif., ran into Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan (center) in Bangalore, on his first trip to India since his election to Congress. Mini Timmaraju (right), Bera’s chief of staff, accompanied him on the trip. (Mini Timmaraju photo via Facebook)

By Indiawest

United States: India could serve as an economic buffer to Afghanistan’s economy as the U.S. completes its draw-down of troops in the country next year, said Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., in an interview before embarking on an eight-day trip to India Aug. 22.

India has a critical role as a strategic and economic partner in post-U.S. Afghanistan, Bera told India-West, noting that India has already made over $2 billion in investments there.

“The U.S. and India must be strategic partners in Afghanistan. Everyone would like to see a tri-lateral partnership,” said Bera, adding that the challenge would be to maintain a stable country after troop withdrawal and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s expected step-down.

Frustrated by his dealings with Karzai, President Barack Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, leaving no American troops there after next year, reported the New York Times last month.

“We’ve spent $80 billion in Afghanistan; we’re ready to start bringing our troops home,” said Bera, adding that he hoped his trip would continue the dialogue with Indian leaders about a possible tri-lateral partnership.

Bera told India-West he was aiming to talk about Sacramento businesses and its large agricultural sector on his first trip to India since he was elected to Congress. The lone Indian American in Congress set off Aug. 22 on the visiting politician’s standard triumvirate of Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. He was expected to return Aug. 29, after India-West went to press.

In the pre-trip interview, Bera said he would be visiting Gujarat, where his parents immigrated from 50 years ago. Bera dodged a question on whether he would meet with Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has been banned from the U.S. because of his purported involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots, which killed approximately 2,000 Muslims and 254 Hindus. Critics say Modi contributed to ethnic cleansing and genocide for allowing the riots to continue.

Modi has been denied a U.S. visa. Protests at the Wharton India Economic Institute broke out last year after Modi was invited to speak – via telecast – on Gujarat’s rapid economic emergence.

Bera dodged a question with reporters in India about Modi’s emerging role in national politics – the CM has been tossed around as a possible candidate for the prime minister’s seat – and bypassed the U.S. visa question, stating that if Modi wants a U.S. visa, he should apply for one.

Bera staff told India-West that the congressman had dropped a visit to Gujarat from his itinerary.

The eight-day trip started in Bangalore, where Bera met with leaders of companies doing business in India and the U.S. Bera gave speeches at the Dayanand Sagar Engineering College and at the Emergent Institute, which aims to train new leaders in socially-inclusive and environmentally-friendly business practices. Emergent recently launched a partnership with the University of Southern California.

Bera also visited the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ashram in Bangalore.

In New Delhi, Bera attended a breakfast hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce and the Confederation of Indian Industries. Amid meetings with Indian bureacrats, including M.M. Pallam Raju, Minister of Human Resources Development, and new Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, Bera held forth at a roundtable discussion at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Analysis and at the Aspen Institute. At the latter discussion, moderated by former Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Ronen Sen, Bera said the U.S. has an expendable supply of energy – both alternative, plus shale oil and gas – which could be sold to India to meet the country’s expanding energy needs.

In Mumbai, Bera was scheduled to meet with an Indian representative for Blue Diamond Almonds, whose headquarters are in Sacramento, Calif.

First Six Months in Congress ‘Eye Awakener’

In related news, Bera told India-West in an interview last month that his first six months in Congress have been a real eye-awakener.

The freshman congressman from Sacramento characterized Congress as an “extremely dysfunctional place.”

“I wish we could be more productive, but there are politics that come into play at the leadership level, so that it’s more about winning and losing rather than getting things done,” he said.

Bera is a member of the “no labels problem solvers” group, a bi-partisan coalition of 43 Democrats and 17 Republicans. The group July 18 unveiled a package of nine bills. One bill mandates Congress to turn out a budget on deadline or lose its pay; another creates a two-year budgetary process. Other bills in the package aim to scrap duplicate government agencies and create an oversight agency for federal government programs, with the aim of efficiency and thrift.