Tulsi Gabbard, the newly elected co-chair of the India Caucus of the House of Representatives, has said Pakistan continues to allow its territories to be used by terrorists operating in India, Afghanistan and other nations and they have the “tacit and overt support” of officials in the host government.
Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, also believes the US should take reasonable stand on H-1B visa programme, saying there cannot be “blanketed cuts or limitations on immigration that do not take into account the broader economic and social impact…for our friends around the world”.
In an email interview with Hindustan Times, Gabbard, a major in the US Army National Guard who has done two tours of duty in the Middle East, gave her views on the India Caucus elections and her plans and views as the new co-chair.
Congresswoman, congratulations on you election as co-chair. What will be the goals of India Caucus under your leadership? What is the one thing that you may want to leave behind as a legacy achievement?
Gabbard: Since the US-India Caucus was established in 1994, it has played a key role in driving U.S.-India bilateral relations forward. As co-chairs, Rep. Holding and I are meeting with members of the Caucus as well as Indian American leaders and organizations to discuss the Caucus’s legislative agenda and goals in the 115th Congress. Major areas of interest include strengthening mutually beneficial economic ties, building upon the existing U.S.-India security framework and our shared fight against terrorism, and expanding foreign exchange student programs between the U.S. and India, which have fallen far behind other comparable nations.
What do you think is the state of India-US relations currently? And what next?
Gabbard: As the world’s largest and oldest democracies, the U.S. and India are natural allies. From cooperating in education to business to counterterrorism and so much more, the U.S. and India have made great strides in strengthening our important relationship. As we look to the future, there is great potential, which is why it’s important that we build upon this progress, strengthen our ties, and expand our relationship for the benefit of both countries and their citizens.
What are your views on H-1B visa issue, which might come up in congress on its own or as part of a comprehensive immigration reforms package? Critics have argued it is being abused to outsource American jobs to low-wage replacements from abroad, mostly India. And India has argued it is a trade issue and that there is a shortage of skilled manpower in the US locally, which is being filled by foreigners and, finally, it helps keep the American economy competitive.
Gabbard: We need an immigration policy that both strengthens our American economy and workforce, and that recognizes the economic contributions that Indians and Indian-Americans continue to make here in the United States, without fear that a change in politics will put their business at risk or separate their family. We cannot make blanketed cuts or limitations on immigration that do not take into account the broader economic and social impact for our country and for our friends around the world.
There is growing frustration in congress with Pakistan’s continuing reluctance to act decisively against terrorist groups operating from its soil, against Afghanistan and US-led coalition forces across its western border and against India on the eastern border. What can, and should, the US do? Do you think declaring Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism will help?
Gabbard: Pakistan has continued to allow terrorist organizations to operate within their borders, moving across borders unchecked, allowing access into India, Afghanistan, and other nations. Officials within the Pakistani government have also continued to provide tacit and overt support for terrorism. In Congress, I’ve worked to cut back U.S. assistance for Pakistan, particularly any military assistance, and increase pressure on Pakistan to stop these dangerous actions and break these ties. I’ve also introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, legislation that would stop the U.S. government from using taxpayer dollars to directly or indirectly support groups who are allied with and supporting terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda. If passed, this bill would make it illegal for the U.S. government to provide support, funding, and weapons to any nation that has given or continues to support terrorists.
In the aftermath of the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer in Olathe, Kansas; the shooting of Deep Rai, a Sikh man, in Kent, Washington; and the chilling video shot by an anti-immigrant activist of Indian families in a public park in Dublin, Ohio, Indians are concerned. Many think the US is not safe for them any more. What needs to be done? By the administration? And congress? Do you plan to use the platform of the leadership of India Caucus to push the House on this?
Gabbard: The U.S.-India Caucus has long brought together people from different parties and different parts of the country to work together on strengthening relations between the U.S. and India, and to recognize the contributions Indian-American make to our country. The recent rise of violence against Indians, Hindus, Sikhs, and other religious and ethnic minorities, is deeply concerning. In the 115th Congress, we will continue our work to increase awareness and understanding across our communities, and urge the Department of Justice to investigate these horrific acts and address the rise of hate crimes across the country.
India has a very different view of Syria, which you visited recently, than the US. If I may, your views are closer to India’s, which has also opposed regime change, and wants bloodshed to be stopped by both sides. Would you push for India to play a bigger role in the conflict? Do you see yourself working with India on this or is this outside the charter?
Gabbard: Ending our illegal and counterproductive regime change war in Syria is among my top priorities in Congress. The United States has spent trillions of dollars on regime change wars in the Middle East instead of investing in comprehensive immigration reform, job growth, aging infrastructure, affordable housing, education, health care, and so much more. I will continue to work towards increasing awareness among my colleagues on the need to pass the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, so that we can focus on defeating terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, which pose a grave threat to US, India, and the world, and so that we have the resources to reinvest in our communities here at home.