Biden Expected to Expand U.S.-India Relationship While Stressing Human Rights

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has significantly invested in its relationship with India over the past four years, seeing the country as a crucial partner in counterbalancing the rise of China.

Military cooperation and a personal friendship between President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India — both domineering nationalists — have pushed New Delhi and Washington closer.

Now, as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to move into the White House, American diplomats, Indian officials and security experts are resetting their expectations for relations between the world’s two largest democracies.

On one hand, experts said, Mr. Biden’s administration will most likely pay more attention to India’s contentious domestic developments, where Mr. Modi’s right-wing party has been steadily consolidating power and becoming overtly hostile toward Muslim minorities. Mr. Trump has largely turned a blind eye.

The United States has been trying to increase arms sales to India, but India’s history of buying weapons from other countries, including France, Israel and Russia, has complicated that effort. American officials are concerned about providing sensitive equipment to India if there is a risk that members of the Russian military or other foreign agents would then have access to that same equipment. American and Indian officials signed an agreement to share real-time geographical data through satellite images when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited India in October.

Despite the warming ties, though, Indian officials also worry that Mr. Biden might be less critical of Pakistan, India’s archrival, than Mr. Trump has been. Mr. Biden may even reach out to Islamabad for support as the United States draws down troops in Afghanistan. Early in his presidency, Mr. Trump suspended military aid to Pakistan, accusing it of supporting terrorists and giving the United States “nothing but lies and deceit.”

In contrast, Mr. Trump has said little about the increasing hostility toward Muslims within India and the divisive politics of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. The Trump administration has kept largely quiet about Mr. Modi’s crackdown on Kashmir last year and the passage of a new, blatantly anti-Muslim citizenship law. And Mr. Modi’s recently passed pro-market agricultural policies have fueled a farmer rebellion that has snarled daily life in the nation’s capital and stirred up more anti-government feeling.

Both Mr. Biden — who is considered a strong friend of India since his days as a senator when he worked to approve the country’s landmark civil nuclear agreement in 2008 — and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are likely to be more critical of India’s human rights record, both in private and in public, experts said.

Ms. Harris, whose mother was Indian and who has remained close to that side of her family, has already indicated that she was concerned about Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim area that has long been a flash point between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Biden’s campaign documents specifically called on the Indian government to “take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people” in Kashmir. His campaign added that Mr. Biden was also “disappointed” in Mr. Modi’s citizenship law.

Some activists in the United States want the Biden administration to go even further, and warn Indian officials that discontent over some of its current policies could imperil how strong a partner India might be for the United States.



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