Washington: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and not India were on top of the priority list for the Obama Administration in South Asia, but the Indo-US relationship under the outgoing president is ending on a “high note”, according to a former Indian-American White House official.
It (India-US relationship) is ending on a high note,” said Anish Goel, the former Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council, White House.
In this position, Goel was one of the key players in the India-US relationship in the first two years of the Obama Administration that saw the first state visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009 and the historic visit of President Barack Obama to India a year later.
Goel, a senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation, a top US think-tank, said the relationship between India and the US has gone through some peaks and valleys.
“It started out very strong and then I think everyone knows in the middle years in 2011, 2012 and 2013 it was really short of a low point in the relationship. At that point you had administration officials on both sides openly criticising each other,” said Goel, who headed the India desk at the White House in his first two years of the Obama presidency.
“You had cases being filed in WTO, India blocking things that was a priority for the US and on top of things you had (Devyani) Khobragade episode, which really exposed short of a tenuous relationship. So that was the point when everybody wondered if the relationship could cover or this is really going to be how the two countries interacted,” he noted.
“But it is ending on a high note. The relationship has really recovered since that time. The flurry of activities in the last two years is great. Both sides deserve credit. The Obama Administration was ready to move forward,” Goel said.
After Modi became the Prime Minister, the relationship has seen an upward trajectory, he said.
“And I think, Prime Minister Modi deserves enormous amount of credit for putting the relationship back on track. He could have taken a very very different approach and he could have said that this is a country that denied me entry for 10 years and we have been at loggerheads for the past three years, and that this relationship is not that important for me and I am going to keep a different track,” Goel said.
“But he did not. He put aside all of that in the background and said it is important for India to have a string relationship with the United States. I think, he moved forward in this regard,” Goel said, giving credit for the revival of the relationship to Prime Minister Modi.
Responding to a question on Obama’s vision on India when he occupied the White House, Goel recollected that he wanted to continue the strong relationship.
“One of the successes of the Bush Administration had been building a strong strategic partnership with India and President Obama wanted to continue that. He might not have been quite enthusiastic as President Bush was but he certainly wanted to keep the relationship going,” he said.