Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An interview with US Ambassador Nancy Powell.

‘India’s role in Afghanistan is positive’
Nancy Powell, US Ambassador to India, in a discussion with the senior editorial team of The Tribune spoke on a range of critical issues stating that the US is looking at a relationship of greater depth and breadth with India whether its role in Afghanistan or on trade and security issues 
Nattily attired in a semi-formal fashion, donning a black and white summer jacket, the US Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, is every inch a diplomat who wouldn't be caught on the wrong foot. Business-like and incisive in her answers, however, she exudes a charm that is hard to resist. Even when she circumvents answers to vexing issues like Kashmir you can't help but admire her sharp wit and sense of humour. On a special visit to The Tribune office yesterday, the charming lady talks to the senior editorial team about a host of issues ranging from Afghanistan to Indo-US relations to Pakistan and of course on being the first woman US Ambassador to India.
How do you look at Indo-US relations currently?
Nancy Powell, US Ambassador to India talks to The Tribune team in Chandigarh
Nancy Powell, US Ambassador to India talks to The Tribune team in Chandigarh. Photo: Manoj Mahajan
I would divide it into three broad areas. First, there is a focus on bilateral relations across the board with particular emphasis on economic ties which we will be elaborating upon next month when Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for the third annual Indo-US strategic dialogue with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. It will highlight the depth and breadth of our relationship. The second area is recognising that India is a growing power in the world stage, certainly in the region, and how does the US engage or work with India at various regional and international fora. And the third area of the broad picture is on security and counter terrorism which includes sharing of intelligence and the Homeland security dialogue.
With regard to the security issue, the US plans to pull its troops out in Afghanistan in 2014. How does US view the region and India's role in Afghanistan?
2014 is an important year for the region for a variety of reasons including general elections in Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan. Then there is a decision by the US to basically decrease the number of boots on the ground in Afghanistan. But we plan to continue to assist and train the Afghan national security forces. India has been performing a small but very important piece of training of some of the Afghan Security Forces, both its Army and Police. We hope that this will continue and we can have a coordinated approach. We began a bilateral dialogue with Afghanistan. We invited people from Washington and Kabul to come here and brief your officials apart from understanding what India was planning as well. That has also now developed into a trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, India and United States sitting down. This is a sign of the positive role India can play in the region. I think your soft power is potentially very important for Afghanistan, particularly the examples of how your parties organise themselves, how they fight elections apart from some of the constitutional mechanism that you use for conflict resolution rather than resorting to battles. I think in a variety of ways we can work together with the Afghans and we are all hoping that our cooperation will increase after 2014.
What is the US perception on Kashmir?
The US is united with India and other countries in condemning terrorism. There is an active sharing of information between the two countries, active diplomacy with Pakistan and other countries for India and Pakistan to continue their dialogue. The Homeland Security dialogue covers an enormous range of issues. The levels of violence in the Valley have gone down if not disappeared completely. There is an appreciation that as long as there are incursions along the Line of Control, there is a potential for escalation of violence which is not in the interest of the world. But we are steadfast in saying that this is a problem that India and Pakistan should solve on their own and we will be helpful only if both parties ask for it.
Will you explain President Obama’s new approach to combating terror?
I am still digesting what the President had said last week, I think it will be an area of debate and I think what he was explaining was instead of having a broad global war on terror we are going to look much more precisely at those areas where there are significant problems, work to address those and devote our resources in a more focused manner. I don’t think any of us believe that the war on terror is over or those who declare war on us have completely abandoned this fact. I would not think terrorists can take any comfort from the change in tactics.
With Nawaz Sharif all set to take power on June 5 as the next premier of Pakistan how do you look at the hand of friendship that he has extended to India? Do you think the army there will welcome this?
There has been recognition in the United States that welcomes the comments of both the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif. It is very significant that Pakistan has had elections and will now go from a democratically elected government to another one. It is an important milestone for Pakistan. During my stint in Pakistan the people to people interaction was seen as a very positive development. Pakistan has energy needs and there could be a mutually beneficial way of India addressing these. The lowering of tensions is positive and any Pakistani would see it as a plus. But as an American and sitting here in India, I shouldn't be saying that.
Are you disappointed with the progress in India-US business relations?
Well, I am an American and I obviously like to race ahead. On the overall relationship we are going to cross the $ 100 billion mark in trade in goods and services this year. This is an enormous increase but it is basically done by our companies or individuals working together. I foresee that will continue. We are hoping to negotiate a bilateral investment treaty. We pulled back and built a new model and about the time we finished our new model, India said its time to look at ours. Both are legitimate moves as the world had changed. There are calls among the business communities on both sides to perhaps skip this and look at a free trade agreement. Those are the ideas that we will explore in this dialogue and I think we will begin to see the trade policy forum regain its periodic meetings to discuss trade issues.
On the nuclear deal are you concerned by the slow pace and that US companies haven’t benefited so far?
US does have issues with the Nuclear Liability Law of India and we are concerned about how it will make it very difficult for the US companies from coming to India. Yet we are working very closely and hopefully there will be a way forward on outstanding issues. On the commercial question, Westing House senior officials were in Mumbai last week and we are hoping to see some progress.
When Barack Obama took over as the President he stated that the US is losing jobs in mathematics and science to India and China. Why are Americans lagging behind?
(Chuckles) Guess we got lazy a little bit. It is hard work to do those subjects and I think we were able to continue to find people particularly from this part of the world who were willing to come and use our very open economic society to prosper and many of them have become American citizens. Science and technology had become almost a totally male dominated field but that is no longer true. These subjects are very important for both countries. It is going to continue to be an area where there is an enormous demand for knowledge, innovation and a real emphasis in the United States. In open societies we need open business models that allow people to exchange ideas.
India had a strong association with the US as far as students studying abroad were concerned? But now Indian students are looking at other countries like Australia and UK?
It's possible that there is a growing demand in other countries but in United States we are still seeing an increase in numbers. American educational institutions are delighted to have Indian students and we are working hard to have them.
What do you think of the India's misgivings over the US Immigration Bill?
It is a very complex Bill which is thick document and is likely to be amended many, many times. But there are positive things in store. Students who want to do science, technology, maths and engineering it means a big welcome and a green card at the end of the day. Rest-assured, the number of HI-B visas will go up and those in the pipeline for legal immigration will have cause to cheer as the hugely debated Bill will have some staggering proposals.
As the first woman US Ambassador to India, do you think it's an advantage to be woman in India?
It's always a big advantage to be a woman not just in India but anywhere in the world. But you have to work at it. We are all doing better but could do more. In India it's heartening to walk into a room and realise that I am not the only woman in that room.
Certainly she takes pride in being an American and in staying ahead. But equally interestingly she also calls herself "Punjabi American" as she grew up close to the soil in the agricultural part of the United States and the sight a of tractor in India makes her feel at home. What she admires in Punjabis is their community spirit and how they look out for each other. Besides, she enjoys talking and listening to farmers.
Emergence of women as role models is something that she finds very encouraging. Lest we forget… the lady herself who occupied the prestigious position of the director general of the United States Foreign Service, had served as an Ambassador to Pakistan and Nepal and held many more significant posts, is undeniably an inspiring example worthy of emulation.

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