Former Trump official calls for more empathy toward India’s position on Russia

Ritu Jha-

The first post-pandemic West Coast Summit of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) drew entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and policymakers from India and the U.S. at Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel in Menlo Park, May 9.

But the question that dominated the summit was the Russia-Ukraine war and where India stands between the U.S. and Russia.

While Indian American Congressman Ro Khanna told Mukesh Aghi, president and CEO of the USISPF, to ask India to take a clear stand, Keith Krach, former undersecretary of state in the Donald Trump administration, urged the Democratic politician to show some empathy toward India.

Krach, chairman and co-founder of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy, Purdue University, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee this year, said, “It is all about trust.”

The Krach panel, moderated by John Chambers, chairman emeritus of Cisco, discussed the critical role trusted technology plays in advancing freedom. Krach, who called China a threat to democracy as well as to business and intellectual property, said India is now an important partner of the U.S.

He was concerned about a possible China-Taiwan conflict as also India’s economic dependence on China. He advised the attendees that a dialogue is needed with India to work on the differences as far as Russia is concerned.

“I think the U.S. respects India as a big power and we see what is going on with Ukraine-Russia-U.S. … we should show empathy toward India,” he said. “Democracy is under attack like never before and our two nations are the world’s largest democracies. Preserving freedom and peace through trust must be at the heart of our relationship.”

Krach continued, “As one of America’s closest friends, a technological superpower and a member of the Quad and the Clean Network Alliance of Democracies, India is not only a bulwark against techno-authoritarianism but also crucial to advancing our shared democratic values through trusted technology.”

Krach on the sidelines of the conference told indica, “We are in a critical time and it all comes down to trust.” He said the ‘trust principle’ is based on democratic values, respect for the rule of law and the sovereignty of nations, human rights, fair labor practices, press freedom and the environment as a peaceful alternative to the ‘power principle’ of authoritarian regimes rooted in brute force, coercion and intimidation.

Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray recently shared his concern about how China steals Intellectual property and has weaponized most of it while forcing Chinese nationals to turn over any information, technology and data to the People’s Liberation Army or the government or suffer the consequences.

Asked whether this means the U.S. was late in acknowledging the threat from China, Krach agreed. “It has been going on for a long time,” he said. “Everybody thought capitalism would equal democracy, but China proved it wrong. (But) the world has woken up and people now understand.”

This is why, he said, the U.S. has been supportive of India and helping it to grow. He said when he was chairman of the Development Finance Corporation and undersecretary in the Trump administration, India received $60 billion to develop its energy sector and infrastructure.

“The big partnership is in education,” he said. “If you look at the leaders in top technology companies, many are from India.”

What India lacks, which hinders the relationship, he said, is “mutual respect on both sides”. “There is so much we can do in terms of partnership if we want to keep democracy in this world.”

He added that there is a synergy between the U.S. and India and lauded India for banning over 100 Chinese apps.

He believes the consequences of a China-Taiwan conflict would be devastating, particularly for the hi-tech industry due to Taiwan’s dominant position in semiconductor manufacturing.

John Chambers, who could not meet India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on her visit to the U.S. last month because he had contracted Covid, told indica that semiconductors are crucial for national security and both India and the U.S. should work together on this important category.

“There are huge opportunities,” he said. “Over time we could see innovation coming out of India and the U.S. and both addressing it together.”

While he refused to comment on the India-Russia connection, he said, “I have been the biggest believer in India and India’s startup environment and inclusive environment of all 29 states and 7 Union territories and creating millions of jobs a month.”

He lauded Modi as a top leader and said his digital agenda is an example for other countries. “If I had to bet on an Asian country, it would be India,” he said. “If I had to bid on two Asian countries, I would bet on India twice!”

Mukesh Aghi(left), president and CEO of the USISPF with Congressman Ro Khanna. photo credit: indica.

Congressman Khanna agreed India is a natural and important ally for the U.S. and shares democratic values. “Of course, there are disagreements, but the relationship is critical and we have to work on it strategically,” he said.

Aghi asked several questions of Khanna, from him joining the Pakistan caucus to his views about India and how he sees India’s abstinence from the U.N. Security Council votes on Ukraine.

Khanna said, “I think the country (India) is making a huge mistake. No one is saying don’t buy oil or don’t do a defense relationship. I think Congress feels perplexed. It’s not funny. Putin is a butcher and murderer and morally wrong and so I think it is reasonable to expect India to condemn his actions.”

On the Pakistan caucus, he said, “I do what is the best for the United States of America. We have to have appropriate relationships with South Asia. Ultimately, I said to the India government, why not resolve and lessen the tension because the U.S.-India caucus relationship is critical.”

Khanna insisted, however, that the U.S. still is the most powerful country in the world, a great innovator, and wants its allies to share interests and values. “When that doesn’t happen, it becomes a challenge,” he said.

“We are going to stay powerful and produce by leaps and bounds when it comes to innovation,” he said. “They (India) cannot play both sides. I don’t think they want to.”

Describing Russia as a failed state, he said California’s GDP is larger than that of Russia. So India has a lot more leverage than one may think. “I don’t think the U.S. has said don’t buy oil from Russia and is asking to condemn Putin. He has nowhere to go. I think India is in a place (where) he (Putin) needs those relationships more than India does.”