Congressman Khanna defends his joining Pakistan Caucus

Move raises eyebrows in some quarters of the Indian American community but is hailed by the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S.

  • By Aziz Haniffa Aug 17, 2019
Indian-American Congressman Khanna defends his joining Pakistan Caucus
U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna with his wife Ritu.

WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna, the California Democrat who represents Silicon Valley, has strongly defended his decision to join the Congressional Caucus on Pakistan and Pakistani Americans, that has raised eyebrows in some quarters of the Indian American community but has been hailed by the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S.

By joining this country-specific caucus, which is co-chaired by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Tex.) and Jim Banks (R.-Ind.), which is significantly smaller than the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Khanna, 42, becomes the first Indian American lawmaker to join the Pakistani Caucus.

However, Khanna, a rising star in the progressive movement, who is vice-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House, is also a member — as is Jackson Lee — of the India Caucus, the largest country-specific caucus in the U.S. Congress.

Khanna, who was unanimously re-elected for a second term in November 2018, and in recent months — as a member of the powerful and influential House Oversight and Armed Services Committees–has become a regular fixture on television networks and cable channels, from the left-leaning MSNBC to the right-wing conservative Fox News, and also CNN, told India Abroad that his joining the Pakistani Caucus can’t take anything away from the fact that “I am a proud member of the India Caucus,” and if anything it could only have a positive impact in terms of being a catalyst in bringing both caucuses together and hopefully translate to their working together to urge peace in South Asia and push for a rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

He said, “I have been very involved in strengthening the U.S.-India partnership, and I am working on legislation to make sure India has a defense relationship similar to NATO countries.”

“I am also working with (civil rights icon, Rep.) John Lewis (D.-Ga.) on the legislation commemorating Mahatma Gandhi and having a scholarship fund to promote his teachings of non-violence,” he added.

Khanna also noted that “there is also legislation condemning the terrorist attacks on Kashmir (Pulwama) that I have co-sponsored, and I have attended events with the U.S.-India Business Council to see how we can promote our exports and trade which will create jobs in the U.S.”

He also pointed out that “many members of the U.S.-India Caucus are also members of the Pakistan Caucus, and for example, the Chair of the (House)Foreign Affairs Committee Elliot Engel (D.-N.Y.) spoke when (Pakistani) Prime Minister(Imran) Khan came to the Capitol.”

Thus, Khanna reiterated, “Being part of both caucuses allows me to be more effective in promoting U.S. interests in the region and strengthening the U.S.-India relationship,” and argued, “Although I do not believe that the U.S. should intervene in bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, I do hope ultimately we will see peace in the subcontinent which will help both nations and the world.”

Considered an articulate analyst of foreign policy and security issues, in addition to an expert on technology issues, which has led to his being regularly invited by television networks and mainstream newspapers to offer his views, Khanna told India Abroad that “ by working to bring both caucuses together, I hope it leads to the type of dialogue and creative thinking that may contribute to peace in South Asia.”

“That is the hope for my generation and in my lifetime,” he declared.

Khanna, who joined the Pakistan Congressional Caucus, after being part of a Congressional delegation of members of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees that met with Prime Minister Khan during his visit last month to Capitol Hill, was also lauded by Pakistan’s envoy to the U.S. for joining the Pakistan-specific caucus.

Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, in thanking Khanna for joining the Pakistani Caucus, tweeted, “Had a wonderful meeting with Congressman Ro Khanna. We discussed the Prime Minister’s recent visit to the US and ways to promote Pakistan-US relations. Congressman Khanna took keen interest in promoting peace in South Asia. Thanked him for joining the Pakistan Caucus.”

Khanna’s supporters have dismissed any concerns over his joining the Pakistani Caucus and have argued that he’s an unapologetic Indian American totally comfortable with his ethnic identity and who for a moment has not compromised this identity towards his commitment to the community and also in terms of his unstinted support for U.S.-India relations.

Khanna, in almost every conversation or speech he delivers, particularly to Indian American or South Asian American audiences, never forgets to mention that his commitment to public service was inspired by his maternal grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar, who was active in Mahatma Gandhi’s independence movement and had worked with Lala Lajpat Rai in India, and spent several years in jail for promoting human rights.

He is also a close friend and confidante of Rep. Lewis, whom he considers a mentor and has traveled with him extensively, and has often also mentioned and written about the link between Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement and the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., led by Rev. Martin Luther King, along with the likes of Lewis.

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