- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2000

Indian-Americans, who now hold 40 percent of high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley and the Washington area, are pouring money into political campaigns and helping change the shape of U.S. relations with India, where President Clinton will visit next month.

The growing clout of Indian-Americans, who collectively earned $60 billion in California's Silicon Valley last year, is partly responsible for a recent tilt in America's foreign policy away from Cold War ally Pakistan and toward India, officials and analysts say.

"Like all Americans participating in politics, American-Indians are now sufficiently mature to advocate for their motherland much as the Jews became capable advocates for Israel," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, New York Democrat and chairman of the 118-member Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Of an estimated 1 million Indian-Americans nationwide, about 80,000 to 100,000 live in the Washington area, mainly linked to high-tech corridors in Virginia and Maryland.

Indian-Americans contribute both to Democrats, such as Mr. Ackerman and President Clinton, and to Republicans, such as Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

Mr. Helms, a staunch backer of anti-communist Pakistan when it hosted anti-Soviet Afghan refugees in the 1980s, now tends to view India with a newfound sympathy and understanding, congressional sources say.

Mark Lagon, Mr. Helms' senior foreign policy aide, said Wednesday at a Georgetown University forum that the United States should drop sanctions on India, imposed after Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998, but he did not offer such largess to Pakistan.

Swadesh Chatterjee, president of the Indian-American Forum for Political Education, has met with Mr. Helms and, according to congressional sources, opened him up to a new view of India.

During the Cold War, India was both anti-Western and a big Soviet arms customer. It has since begun to reform its quasi-socialist economy, and the United States has become its main trading partner.

Some U.S. strategic thinkers also find India increasingly valuable as a long-term counterbalance to the growth of Chinese influence in Asia.

Indian-Americans, who have only recently begun to feel at home enough to become politically active, were briefly frightened away from activism after scandals involving foreign contributions to Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, a congressional source said.

Indian-American lawyer Lalit Gadhia was sentenced to three months in jail after he admitted funneling money from an Indian diplomat into U.S. political campaigns. Chinese government cash was also suspected of being laundered through Chinese-Americans.

However, those scandals have since faded, and the profile of Indian-American political activity appears to be increasing in a long-term trend apart from U.S. election cycles.

Indian-American businessmen, for example, met with White House aides Thursday to discuss joining the president on his March 19-26 trip to India. Mr. Clinton will include a one-day visit to Bangladesh sandwiched between longer stops in India, but has not yet announced whether he will stop in Pakistan.

A prominent Pakistani-American Thursday told The Washington Times that Mr. Clinton, in an effort to prop up pro-Western forces in Pakistan, would make a brief stop at Lahore airport at the end of his trip to India.

This was denied by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who said in an interview, "The decision has not yet been made."

Pakistani officials also disputed a report in The Times on Wednesday that the U.S. Secret Service was against a presidential visit to Pakistan because it believed Muslim militants had infiltrated Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) agency.

"I can deny that ISI is infiltrated by extremist groups," said Zameer Akram, deputy chief of the Pakistan Embassy.

"Senior administration officials apologized … for the leak [to The Times]," Mr. Akram said.

About 300,000 Indian-Americans work in high-technology firms in California's Silicon Valley, where they earned $60 billion last year, Stanford University economist Rafiq Dossani told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Thursday.

They are beginning to funnel their incomes, which average $200,000 a year, into southern India's high-technology boom, already surpassing its export industry as a source of foreign cash, he said.

Nationwide, Indian-American income averages $60,000, according to the 1990 census, higher than any other Asian immigrant group.

The Silicon Valley Indian-Americans are owners and managers as well as technicians, and they are creating more than 15 percent of high-tech startups, Mr. Dossani said.

They are also turning their economic clout into political force, Mr. Dossani said. They are urging Mr. Clinton to grant additional work visas to Indian software workers, an issue likely to be on the agenda of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Mr. Clinton's visit to New Delhi.

A source linked to the congressional Caucus on India said that when militants from Pakistan attacked Indian troops in Kashmir last spring at Kargil, the Indian-American community lashed out with its new political clout.

"On Kargil, the Indian-American community was fired up," the source said. "They flooded the congressional offices with faxes, e-mail, telephone calls and personal visits."

The House International Relations Committee later passed a resolution blaming Pakistan for the events in Kargil.

Michael T. Clark, executive director of the U.S.-India Business Council, said that the Silicon Valley Indians are following a much larger wave of political activity by Indian-Americans across the country who have contributed to political candidates.

Indian-Americans were at first divided into groups based on their origin in India but are gradually forming larger associations.

"We are not as well organized as AIPAC [the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee]," the congressional source said. "We do not know who is giving what to who and when. At the moment, we do not even have a real Washington office or presence."

An important test of Indian-Americans' growing clout is the effort to separate India's relations with America from those of Pakistan.

Mr. Talbott noted that there was strong support in the administration for "delinking" India and Pakistan and allowing a decision on a trip to India to be made independently of one on Pakistan.

"We believe both countries when each wants to be treated in its own light," Mr. Talbott said at the CSIS forum Thursday. "Very much in that light the president will make his decision on his itinerary."

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