In South Asia, graft begets Terror

What do elections in India have to do with terrorism? Plenty. These days, well-heeled candidates distribute “notes for votes”, passing out currency so as to entice electors into choosing them. While illegal in India’s absurdly restrictive electoral system (where a candidate for a parliamentary seat with more than five million voters breaks the law if he spends more than $30,000 on his election), why should counter-terrorism experts need to experience blood pressure rises at the fact that an estimated $ 800 million was handed out during the 2009 national elections in India to voters? More recently, last month more than $100 million in cash was seized from politicians in just the state of Tamil Nadu, where elections to the state legislature were due.

Most of the cash handed out by generous politicians is counterfeit. They get the currency from the same networks that operate the terror and narcotics syndicates. Apart from North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, the biggest counterfeiter in the world is Pakistan’s ISI, which uses its multiple contacts in India to circulate cash that has been printed for the purpose. India has, of course, made this easy by relying on the same source for printing its currency as Pakistan does for its own, thereby ensuring that the same inks and paper become available to the ISI as are used in printing India’s legal tender. The cash gets moved into India through multiple channels, a lot of it coming into the possession of politcal leaders, who protect the networks involved so as to be assured of their own supplies of counterfeit currency.

Small wonder that Hassan Ali, one of the world’s biggest money launderers, was residing safely in India for decades, even while moving out tens of billions of dollars, most into Swiss banks. Ali is now in jail, but powerful patrons at the Union Cabinet level are seeking to ensure that he avoid naming any but the “small fish” in his roster of clients. The reality is that a Union Cabinet Minister who is holding a powerful portfolio was a close friend of Ali’s closest associate, Kashinath Tapuriah, and frequently used to meet with him in Kolkata. Small wonder that nobody is holding his or her breath waiting for accountability.

India’s top politicians use “hawala” channels to spirit their money abroad, and protect these sources in their own interest. The problem is that most of the major “hawala” channels are run from out of Pakistan, and are staffed by those active in both narcotics and terrorism. By protecting such channels, high-level politicians in India are in effect protecting the votaries of Terror.

Which is where the U.S. can come in. President Barack Obama needs to appreciate that it is not enough that the Treasury Department discover and sanitize cash belonging to terror syndicates that are in US-based entities. The U.S. needs to be similarly active in the case of entities in South Asia as well. And because of its huge size and even greater scale of corruption, India tops the list. Thus far, politicians in power have cleverly defined illegal assets abroad as “tax evasion”, thereby freeing international financial agencies of the responsibility for identifying and eliminating them, something that would need to be done, were these assets correctly labeled. For the fact is that such assets are the proceeds of crime, and need to be defined as such. Why authorities in India are resisting this is because such a change would mean that banks abroad would be duty bound to reveal the names of their clients.

Some politicians in India park funds with relatives abroad, many of whom have foreign passports. There needs to be complete transparency on the assets and occupations of the relatives of key decision-makers in India, so that the public can be alerted if – for example – a high-school dropout who may be the sister of a prominent politician in India becomes a millionaire through paths that are obscure. More than the fact that such individuals are living high on the hog at the expense of the Indian taxpayer who has been cheated of his assets, the reality is that much of the cash sent abroad through “hawala” is tainted by association with narcotics and terror syndicates. What is needed is for the U.S. to publicly offer to assist South Asian states to identify funds that have been parked abroad as a consequence of graft. This would help the War on Terror as much or more as military hardware.

Children of Indian and Chinese Parents Among Nation’s Top Science Students

A new study shows that most of America’s top high school science students are the children of immigrants. More specifically, the research shows that 70 percent of the finalists (28 of 40) at the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition had immigrant parents.

For the research, I interviewed the finalists at this year’s competition, as well as a number of the parents, to determine immigration background. The study has received some interest, including an article in the San Jose Mercury News. A copy of the study can be found here.

It follows earlier research conducted in 2004 that showed the children of immigrants were the majority of finalists at the Intel Science Talent Search, as well as the majority of members of the U.S. math and physics teams.


Indian and Chinese Parents

As Table 1 shows, most of the 40 student finalists at the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search were from India and China. There were 16 children with parents born in China, 10 had parents born in India, as well as one parent from Iran and one from South Korea. Twelve of the parents were native-born.

To place these numbers in perspective, in 2009, Indians comprised only 0.8 percent of the U.S. population and Chinese made up only 1 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In proportion to their presence in the U.S. population, one would expect only one child of an Indian (or Chinese) immigrant parent every two and a half years to be an Intel Science Talent Search finalist, not 10 in a year.

Table 1

Country of Birth for Parents of 40 Finalists of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Competition

China 16
United States 12
India 10
Iran 1
South Korea 1

Source: National Foundation for American Policy. Based on interviews conducted with finalists and parents.

Immigration Category Breakdown

Only 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born and less than 1 percent is made up of current or former H-1B visa holders. Yet the 24 individuals hired on H-1B visas (and then sponsored for green cards) represented the single greatest source of parents with children at this year’s Intel Science Talent Search finals. Fourteen of those 24 were first international students.

Table 2

Immigration Category for Immigrant Parents of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Finalists

Employment (H-1B and Later Employer-Sponsorship) 24
International Student* 14
Family-Sponsored 3
Refugee 1

Source: National Foundation for American Policy. Based on interviews conducted with finalists and parents. *Note: International students who stayed in the United States after graduation did so on H-1 or H-1B visas.

One should also note that three of the parents were sponsored through a family preference category; one received refugee status after applying for asylum. Eight of the children were themselves born outside the United States.

Table 3

2011 Intel Science Talent Search Finalists With Indian-American Immigrant Parents

Name Parents Birthplace Hometown, State
Aggarwal, Amol India Saratoga, California
Arora, Shubhangi* India Novi, Michigan
Atolia, Eta* India Tallahassee, Florida
Joardar, Rounok India Plano, Texas
Mahajan, Rohan India Cupertino, California
Mukhopadhyay, Prithwis Kumar* India Woodbury, Minnesota
Pai, Sunil Kochikar India Houston, Texas
Parthasarathy, Nikhil India Mountain View, California
Rangwala, Alydaar India Loudonville, New York
Saha, Shubhro India Avon, Connecticut

Source: National Foundation for American Policy, Society for Science & the Public. *Born abroad.

Beyond the Numbers

While the numbers are interesting, they represent stories filled with both hope and promise. Samar Saha, father of Shubhro Saha, came to America on an H-1B visa to work in information technology.  His son Shubhro, 18, from Avon, Connecticut, worked with a super computer to identify a possible mechanism for the interaction of the catalyst in hydrogen production. The goal is to make hydrogen easier to use as an alternative energy source. He has presented his research at General Electric. Born in Calcutta, Mr. Saha said, “We came to America for the opportunity and quality of life. I am grateful that my son has been able to take advantage of the opportunities this country offers.”

The father of Rohan Mahajan came to America from India as a graduate student and today works for Cisco in Silicon Valley. Rohan said, “I got interested in energy production because whenever we went to India the power always went out.” For the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition he researched methods of improving the efficiency of photoelectrochemical cells and found a way that increased light absorption of the photoelectrodes, which could have applicability to photovoltaic (solar) cells.

Alydaar Rangwala, whose parents were born in India, found that long wave UV light might work as a treatment for the treatment of lupus, as well as LCH and scleroderma. Prithwis Kumar Mukhopadhyay, who was born in India, has researched whether carrageenan, a food additive, may be linked to malignant cancers.


The research shows that Americans gain much from being open to immigrants who come here seeking a better future for their children. It’s a positive story about how a country gains from being open to people from other cultures and how children possess an enormous capacity to assimilate and excel.

Winning the Future Together

The global ascendance of India as an economic power, technology hub and a source of professional talent will create major opportunities for Indian and multinational businesses alike. But this development has also injected a not-insignificant measure of zero-sum thinking into US-India economic affairs, especially in the area of human capital. These contradictory themes are a growing source of irritation, but if managed smartly could also be a good opportunity for advancing the bilateral relationship.

These contradictions have been in full view in recent months. Last year saw the rise of a populist anti-India backlash as Americans increasingly blamed the country for their economic hardships. Election campaigns trafficked in the outsourcing issue, Congress enacted heavy India-specific fee hikes on the H-1B temporary visa program for skilled foreign workers, and President Obama called for tightening tax penalties on corporate outsourcing in language that pitted U.S. prosperity against that of India’s.

Yet when Mr. Obama arrived in India for a state visit last November, his rhetoric markedly shifted. The country was now portrayed as an economic opportunity too golden to pass up; indeed, the main purpose of his visit seemed to be securing as many commercial deals for American companies as possible. In an address to Indian corporate leaders in Mumbai, he emphasized that “in our interconnected world, increased commerce between the United States and India can be and will be a win-win proposition for both nations. I realize that for some, this truth may not be readily apparent.” For good measure, he added that “there still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centers and back offices that cost American jobs. But these old stereotypes, these old concerns ignore today’s reality.”

The antinomies of the bilateral economic relationship similarly were on display in Obama’s State of the Union address in January. He cited the growth of science and technology capacity in China and India as a threat to America’s competitive edge, while also acknowledging that continued U.S. prosperity requires greater access to the human capital originating from both countries. The success of U.S. enterprises engaged in the advanced technology sectors Mr. Obama identified in his address as key to “winning the future” will increasingly depend on access to the global reservoir of skilled professionals, of which India is a major contributor. The president admitted as much when he criticized the self-defeating nature of U.S. immigration policy: “[Students] come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.”

The President has regularly sounded off on this latter theme, most recently in a series of events over the last month aimed at reviving the issue of immigration reform.  In a speech in El Paso earlier this month, for example, he noted that:

[W]e provide students from around the world with visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities. But our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or power a new industry right here in the United States. So instead of training entrepreneurs to create jobs in America, we train them to create jobs for our competition. That makes no sense. In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can get – not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contributions will benefit all Americans.

The President added that “We don’t want the next Intel or Google to be created in China or India. We want those companies and jobs to take root in America.”*

Obama’s remarks picks up a proposal he made during the last presidential campaign to create a “fast track” mechanism allowing foreign students with advanced technical degrees from U.S. institutions to receive an employment-based visa. At present, 20,000 H-1B visas are reserved for such graduates – many of whom are Indian – though demand greatly eclipses this number.

Although immigration policy remains a hotly-contested issue, the adverse consequences of limiting U.S. access to foreign-born skilled labor are widely acknowledged. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, is at the head of a broad group of civic and business leaders calling for a job-creation strategy based on visa reform.

The United States has been able to maintain its global preeminence in no small part due to the influx of foreign science and engineering professionals and graduate students. Immigrants comprise nearly half of the science and engineering workforce holding PhD degrees. High-skilled immigrants are a significant driving force of American prosperity and innovation, most famously in building the information technology industry.  Research indicates, for instance, that Indian immigrant entrepreneurs play a leading role in founding some of the most dynamic high-tech companies. Studies also point to the valuable entrepreneurial streak immigrants possess: They are 30 percent more likely to form new businesses than native-born Americans, and foreign-born university graduates are some three-times more likely to file patent applications than US-born citizens.

Foreign-born scientific and engineering talent – particularly Indian – is an important pillar of the faculties in America’s top universities. And foreign students earn the majority of engineering doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. universities, and of this number a large percentage opt to remain in the country for some period of time. Their presence, along with other high-skilled immigrants, has helped the U.S. technology workforce expand at a faster rate than the United States is graduating native-born scientists and engineers.

America’s dependence on foreign-born technology professionals will shortly become all the greater. Since younger native-born workers tend to lack the skill levels of their baby boomer parents now nearing retirement age, the United States could face broad and substantial skill shortages in the coming decade. Thus, the United States should be promoting greater access to the global talent pool, and India is a good place to start.

With India a major source of high-skill professionals and the U.S. needing to draw on foreign talent to fortify its own science and engineering workforce, both countries have a keen mutual interest in cooperating in the area of human capital, the most critical resource in the dawning global innovation economy. To this end, Washington and New Delhi should conclude a bilateral agreement guaranteeing a set number of temporary work visas for high-skill Indian professionals. The United States has crafted bilateral agreements with a select number of other countries that could serve as a template, including the TN temporary visa program (created via the North American Free Trade Agreement) that exempts qualified Canadian and Mexican professionals from the annual quota on H-1B work permits.

Admittedly, important constituencies in both countries regard the global talent pool as a zero-sum equation.  In the United States, some argue that increased mobility of foreign high-skill workers will displace or depress wages of native professionals. The empirical evidence, however, suggests that greater numbers of talented immigrants actually supports job creation in the United States and that immigrant entrepreneurs complement rather than crowd out native-born counterparts.

India likewise would stand to benefit from the increased mobility of its technology professionals. Instead of causing “brain drain,” the global innovation economy is actually generating “brain circulation” or a “brain chain,” in which expatriate talent returns home with acquired capital, skills and knowledge, as well as personal links to transnational entrepreneurial and technological networks. Obviously, some of the high-skill Indians who benefit from the bilateral immigration accord will choose to remain permanently in the United States, though they would in time contribute a significant stream of remittance income and serve an important bridging function between Indian innovators and entrepreneurs and those in other countries.  But others, empowered by new ideas and experiences, will return in time and play a direct role in the nation’s development; indeed, this process is already underway (see here and here).

The United States and India are prime constituents in the brain circulation process. Far from seeing access to the global talent pool as a competitive proposition, the interdependency of their skills base requires them to act in a cooperative, synergistic way. Doing so not only makes sound economic sense for both countries, but would also strengthen the foundation of US-India relations.

* Ironically, as Mr. Obama was uttering these words, the Indian science minister was lamenting that the country’s lack of innovation infrastructure keeps India from producing companies like Google and Blackberry.

Why (and What) Are Indians Studying In The United States?

Indian students are a key source of future immigrants to the United States. Many of these students are recruited off U.S. campuses to work in America and are sponsored for permanent residence (a green card). But why do Indian students come here? And what are they studying?

A primary reason anyone desires to study abroad is the belief that education in another country will offer a unique benefit or perspective, or be important for a future career. When U.S. students go abroad it’s more likely to be for a semester or a year, rather than for a full degree program. However, a chance to earn a degree from a prestigious university, such as the London School of Economics, is valued. But in many cases, Americans are seeking unique cultural opportunities when studying abroad, particularly the chance to master another language.

In the case of Indians, there is great interest in gaining a degree abroad that will advance career goals. The majority of Indians come here to earn a masters or Ph.D. In the 2009/2010 academic year, 65 percent of Indian students in the United States were enrolled in a graduate program, compared to 14.5 percent in undergraduate programs (and 18.7 percent in Optional Practical Training), according to the Institute of International Education. That is much different than for countries as a whole, where the number of students seeking a bachelor’s degree and graduate degree is about even for international students coming to the United States.

There appears to be a strong sense among Indians coming here that an American university education is most valuable in engineering, computer science or business. As Table 1 shows, in the 2009/2010 academic year nearly 40 percent of Indian students in America were enrolled in engineering programs at U.S. colleges, according to the Institute of International Education; approximately 20 percent were in math/computer science and 15 percent in business/management. While 10 percent were in physical/life science, only 5 percent were enrolled in health professions, 3 percent in social sciences and 0.6 percent in humanities. Indians are not coming to America in great numbers to earn a degree in history or sociology.

Table 1

                                                    Indian Students By Field of Study in U.S.: 2009/2010

Business/Management Engineering Physical/Life Sciences Math/Computer Science Social Science Health Professions
Percentage of Indian Students in Field 15.3% 38.8 % 10.2% 19.8% 3% 4.9%

           Source: Institute of International Education

How does this study pattern compare to other countries?

India possesses the highest proportion of students enrolled in engineering, followed by Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan and China. (See Table 2)  India also possesses the highest proportion of students enrolled in math/computer science, followed by Nepal, China, Pakistan and Turkey. It is important to remember that India and China send many more students to the United States than those other countries, which means there is a high concentration of Indians, as well as Chinese, in U.S. graduate programs in both engineering and math/computer science.

For students from many other countries studying in America to earn a degree in business/management is a higher relative priority. While 15 percent of Indian students in 2009/10 enrolled in business/management, 24 percent of students from China did so, as did approximately 25 percent of students from Taiwan, Germany and Pakistan. Nearly 40 percent of students from Vietnam are here to study business/management.

Table 2

                              Percentage of International Students By Country in U.S. Engineering Programs: 2009/2010

Country Percentage Enrolled in Engineering
India 38.8%
Malaysia 28.4%
Saudi Arabia 24.0%
Nigeria 23.6%
Turkey 23.3%
Pakistan 23.2%
China 20.2%

                                                     Source: Institute of International Education

Table 3

                      Percentage of International Students By Country in U.S. Math/Comp. Sci. Programs: 2009/2010

Country Percentage Enrolled in Math/Computer Science
India 19.8%
Nepal 11.7%
China 10.7%
Pakistan 10.7%
Turkey 10.0%

                                                     Source: Institute of International Education


The number of Indian students enrolled at U.S. universities nearly doubled in the last decade and has tripled since 1995. The data show Indians are taking advantage of American universities’ comparative advantage in the fields of engineering, math/computer science and business/management. Examining the fields of study shows Indians have increasingly seen an American degree in these fields as the ticket to success.

Reconstructing Afghanistan’s natural balance

Why India must try to bring the United States, Iran and Russia together over Afghanistan

Imagine Afghanistan without extra-regional powers like the United States, NATO and others. Its stability would depend on the stability of the balance of power between Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan and India. The external actors would broadly fall into two camps, based on the degree of convergence of their interests: China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the red corner, and India, Iran and Russia in the blue. This was roughly the situation obtaining in Afghanistan in the second-half of the 1990s towards the end of which the red corner seized a dominant upper hand through the military success of Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime. After 9/11, the U.S. and NATO stepped in and disrupted the natural geopolitical dynamics of the region.

Once external powers withdraw Afghanistan the natural geopolitics will again kick into action: with the China-Saudi-Pakistan triad seeking dominance over the landlocked country against the interests of India, Iran and Russia. The United States has the power to set the future trajectory by choosing sides. The tragedy of the last decade is the sheer inability or unwillingness (complicity or incompetence?) of the United States to appreciate the intrinsic geopolitics of the region. It would have done much better for itself and for Afghanistan if it had recognised how the fundamental interests of the region’s powers were stacked up, and aligned itself accordingly.

The single most important reason for this, perhaps, was the dysfunctional relationship between Iran. There still is no love lost between Washington and Tehran. Worse, even as China consolidates its alliance with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the United States seeks to split India and Iran. For its part, India has shown no appetite for bringing about a rapprochement between the United States and Tehran.

This must change, and 2011 has opened a window for India, Iran and the United States to attempt to increase co-operation over Afghanistan. Writing in the Washington Post, a well-connected Saudi commentator has declared a US-Saudi split. The Pakistani establishment is checking how much support it will receive from China before deciding how much to part ways with the United States. Before the killing of Osama bin Laden upset the scoreboard, General Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani had asked Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, to cut his links with the United States. In the current circumstances China doesn’t have to do anything bold: it just needs to wait.

In contrast, even after Abbottabad, the United States remains wedded to a failed strategy of pretending that the Pakistani military establishment is its ally. This only strengthens the position of the China-Saudi-Pakistan triad, and weakens its own. New Delhi is unlikely to be persuaded that it enjoys a genuinely strategic relationship with the United States as long as the latter continues to scaffold Pakistan. Tehran has many reasons to be opposed to the United States. A good part of that is ideological. What gets less attention is the fact that the realists in Tehran have reason to be wary of the United States because they see Washington as the protector of both Israel and, more importantly, the Sunni bloc consisting of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. There are some differences between New Delhi and Tehran, but nothing that can’t be resolved if Washington were to change course. Russia enjoys good relations with both Iran and India, and is likely to prefer such a re-arrangement of relations.

If realism prevails in Washington, New Delhi and Tehran, their diplomats will be galvanised into working out how the three could co-operate, albeit in a limited context, over Afghanistan. It may be that nearly three decades of estrangement has left the tribal world of Washington policymaking with few advocates of making up with Iran. That’s why India has a role—it must muster up the imagination and diplomatic chutzpah to attempt this project.

It is frustrating to see resigned minds give up before even trying.