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Alyssa Ayres

Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia

Expertise

India; Pakistan; Bangladesh; South Asia; nationalism and political movements in South Asia; economic development; fragile states; emerging markets; business and foreign policy.

Bio

Alyssa Ayres is senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). At CFR she conducts two projects, one focused on India’s role in the world, and one on the new geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan. She directs the U.S. Relations with South Asia Roundtable Series, blogs regularly for Asia Unbound, and is a contributor to Forbes.com. She is writing a book about India’s rise on the world stage.

Ayres served previously as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia from 2010 to 2013, covering all issues across a dynamic region of 1.3 billion people (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan), and providing policy direction for four U.S. embassies and four consulates. Trained originally as a cultural historian, she has experience in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors, and has carried out research on both India and Pakistan.

Prior to serving in the Obama administration, Ayres was founding director of the India and South Asia practice at McLarty Associates, the Washington-based international strategic advisory firm, from 2008 to 2010. Immediately prior, she served in the U.S. Department of State as special assistant to the undersecretary for political affairs as a CFR international affairs fellow. Prior to that she worked in the nonprofit sector at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Asia Society in New York.

Her book on nationalism, culture, and politics in Pakistan, Speaking Like a State, was published worldwide by Cambridge University Press in 2009, and received the American Institute of Pakistan Studies book prize for 2011–2012. She has coedited three books on India and Indian foreign policy: Power Realignments in Asia (Sage, 2009), India Briefing: Takeoff at Last? and India Briefing: Quickening the Pace of Change (ME Sharpe, 2002 and 2005). Ayres has been awarded numerous fellowships, and has received four group or individual Superior Honor Awards for work at the State Department. She speaks fluent Hindi and Urdu, and in the mid–1990s worked as an interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross. She received an AB magna cum laude from Harvard College, and an MA and PhD from the University of Chicago, where her dissertation was defended with distinction. She is a former term member, and has been a life member of CFR since 2010.

India's Role in the World

India's rise to power has led to speculation and expectations about how it will change the global order. On the one hand, India is the world's most populous country and is on track to become the world's third largest economy. Yet India is still home to the world's largest number of poor. India is also the largest and most diverse democracy, but hesitates to promote these values abroad. As the United States welcomes and supports India's rise, Americans should better understand Indians' ambitions for themselves and for their global role—ambitions that are still debated within India. In my forthcoming book, blog posts, and articles, I focus on the live debates in Indian foreign and economic policy shaping India's future course. I also convene the U.S. Relations with South Asia Roundtable Series to address the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S.-India relationship.

The New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan

The emergence of China and more recently, India, has reshaped relations and produced a broader area of economic integration in Asia. Even in southern Asia, where the strategic triangle of China, India, and Pakistan has resulted in flashpoints and suspicions, both India and China have kept their sights on increasing trade and economic growth as a security imperative for the long term. However, southern Asia's security, political, and economic foundations face stresses that could profoundly alter its evolution, usher in the return of geopolitics, and reshape political and economic relations globally. This project will explore potential flashpoints and promising areas for cooperation among China, India, and Pakistan—and identify areas where the United States can help. Over the next two years, I will explore these issues with my colleagues Elizabeth Economy and Daniel Markey in the New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan Roundtable Series and several publications. The project will culminate in a capstone symposium and a Council report in 2016.

The Project on the New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan is made possible by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

All Publications

Ask CFR Experts

What will be the effect of India's general election on relations with its neighbors, the EU, and the United States?

Asked by Najibullah Adamji, from Mithibai College, Mumbai University

Historically, India's foreign policy has not oscillated on a partisan basis, exemplifying the American adage: politics stops at the water's edge. This doesn't mean politics has no effect on foreign policy in India; it is, however, more attenuated with powers farther away, and amplified with smaller neighbors.

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See more in India; Elections

Ask CFR Experts

How does Bangladesh’s socio-political situation affect India?

Asked by Chaitali Phadke

Bangladesh is a critically important neighbor for India, and one with great impact on India—both positive and potentially negative. On the positive side, Bangladesh is a country of approximately 160 million people making great progress on human development, with an economy consistently growing between five and six percent, and with ambitions to reach lower-middle income levels by 2021.

Read full answer

See more in Bangladesh; Society and Culture; Economics

Book

Speaking Like a State

Author: Alyssa Ayres
Alyssa Ayres examines Pakistan's troubled history by exploring the importance of culture to political legitimacy. By comparing Pakistan's experience with those of India and Indonesia, Ayres analyzes how their national language policies led to very different outcomes. The lessons of these large multiethnic states offer insights for the understanding of culture, identity, and nationalism throughout the world.

See more in Pakistan; Ethnicity, Minorities, and National Identity

Op-Ed

Delhi, Dhaka and a New Moment

Author: Alyssa Ayres
Indian Express

At a public meeting in Assam a few days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated his government’s intention to pursue the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh. While resolving the border with Bangladesh may seem like a quiet regional development compared with the turmoil in Afghanistan or competition with China, it will in effect deliver a political hat-trick of historic proportion.

See more in India; Pakistan; Territorial Disputes

Op-Ed

The U.S. Needs to Modi-fy Its India Policy

Author: Alyssa Ayres
ForeignPolicy.com

Modi's past, coupled with concerns among the Indian and global human rights community, presents challenges for U.S. engagement. But the U.S. relationship with India is too important to allow drift to set in. Washington should meet Modi on pragmatic ground, and reframe the relationship in practical terms of mutually beneficial cooperation.

See more in India; Diplomacy and Statecraft

Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 53

Why the United States Should Work With India to Stabilize Afghanistan

Author: Alyssa Ayres

As the international troop presence in Afghanistan shrinks, the United States and India have a shared interest in a stable future for Afghanistan. CFR Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia Alyssa Ayres writes that the United States should encourage Indian support for Afghanistan in areas of Indian expertise: democracy, economics, and civilian security.

See more in Afghanistan; India; Regional Security; Nation Building

Testimony

Political Polarization and Religious Extremism in Bangladesh

Author: Alyssa Ayres

In her testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Alyssa Ayres argued that the United States has good policies in place to cooperate with Bangladesh, including training and technical cooperation, but given the fragile situation in Bangladesh, additional assistance is necessary to combat political polarization and religious extremism.

 

 

See more in Bangladesh; Radicalization and Extremism

Video

India's Change Election

Speaker: Alyssa Ayres

More than eight hundred million Indians will head to the polls next month to elect a new government that must tackle corruption and a fizzling economy, explains CFR's Alyssa Ayres.

See more in India; Elections

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound

CFR Events

What To Do About U.S.-India Relations

Speakers: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, U.S. Department of State (2010-2013), Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, David Rockefeller Studies Program, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador to India (2001-2003), Stephen P. Cohen, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Former Member, Policy  Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State
Presider: John D. Negroponte, Vice Chairman, McLarty Associates;Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State (2007-2009)
February 4, 2015 12:00–12:30 p.m. () - Registration
12:30–1:45 p.m. () - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

The U.S.-India Relationship

Speaker: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: Irina A. Faskianos, Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
October 9, 2014 12:00–1:00 p.m. () - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

The New Indian Government

Speakers: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Jagdish N. Bhagwati, Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert D. Blackwill, Henry Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Charles Robert Kaye, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Warburg Pincus LLC
May 28, 2014 12:30–1:00 p.m. () - Lunch
1:00–2:00 p.m. () - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series: Religion and Politics in India

Speakers: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Irina A. Faskianos, Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
February 19, 2014

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

India Update

Speakers: Salman Haidar, Senior Fellow, United States Institute of Peace, Michael Krepon, President Emeritus, The Henry L. Stimson Center, Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Presider: Alyssa Ayres, Deputy Director, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania
March 13, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

Press/Panels

Video Interview

India and APEC: Charting a Path to Membership

Alyssa Ayres joins an Asia Society Policy Institute panel discussion on Indian membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to present arguments from her 2014 CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum.

Watch

Video Interview

A Year of Modi: India's Global Ambitions

At the IDFC Institute, Alyssa Ayres participates in an interview assessing Prime Minister Modi's first year in office and U.S.-India relations going forward.

Watch

Article

Bangladesh in Chaos, Needs Democratic Governance

Prothom Alo mentions Alyssa Ayres's participation in a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing on political and religious extremism in Bangladesh.

Article

U.S. Never Knew Where Warren Weinstein Was

In Bloomberg View, Alyssa Ayres comments on the constraints on aid programs in Pakistan following the announcement of Warren Weinstein's accidental death from a U.S. drone strike while he was being held hostage.

Article

India and Pakistan's Proxy War in Afghanistan

The Diplomat mentions Alyssa Ayres's Policy Innovation Memorandum, "Why the United States Should Work With India to Stabilize Afghanistan," in an article that discusses Indian and Pakistani involvment in Afghanistan.

Video Interview

Hillary Clinton Announces Presidential Bid

Appearing on Headlines Today, Alyssa Ayres comments on Hillary Clinton's announcement of her candidacy for president, and what a Clinton presidency would mean for South Asia.

Watch

Article

How the U.S. and India Can Collaborate in Afghanistan

The Diplomat reviews Alyssa Ayres's Policy Innovation Memorandum, "Why the United States Should Work With India to Stabilize Afghanistan," assessing the feasibility of its recommendations.

Article

Blogger Attacks: Murdering the Idea of Bangladesh

A leading Bangladeshi newspaper, Kaler Kantho (Bengali), featured a translation of Alyssa Ayres’s recent Huffington Post India article on the assassinations of atheist bloggers on the front page of its Sunday edition, April 5, 2015.

Article

Hopes for a New, More Open India Aren't Dead Yet

Following the results of the Delhi state elections, Alyssa Ayres says that the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party will likely not affect Prime Minister Modi's economic vision. 

Article

Indian Languages Have Few Takers in U.S.

In Zee News, Alyssa Ayres comments on the study of Indian languages in the United States following the release of a survey by the Modern Language Association.

Article

Indian Languages Have Few Takers in the U.S.

In the Times of India, Alyssa Ayres looks at the enrollments in Indian languages in the United States after the release of a survey by the Modern Language Association.

Article

Few Takers for Indian Languages in the U.S.

IBNLive.com cites a blog post on CFR's Asia Unbound by Alyssa Ayres, which looks at Indian language enrollments in the United States following the release of the Modern Language Association's quadrennial survey.

Article

Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister: Aim Higher

In advance of Obama's trip to India, the Asia Society Policy Institute asks leading experts to give their thoughts on the bilateral agenda and what might be accomplished during the summit. Alyssa Ayres writes that both leaders should set their sights on a more ambitious agenda.

Article

Bangladesh's Political Turmoil Intensifies

For Deutsche Welle, Alyssa Ayres comments on political protests in Bangladesh on the one-year anniversary of the January 2014 national elections in Bangladesh.

Video Interview

Prime Minister Modi's Big Bang Trip

At the conclusion of Prime Minister Modi's five-day trip to the United States, Alyssa Ayres joins a panel for NDTV to discuss the outcomes.

Watch

Radio Interview

10/1 John Batchelor Show

Alyssa Ayres joins the John Batchelor Show to discuss the geopolitical implications of Indian Prime Minister Modi's visit to the United States.

Listen

Video Interview

Analysis of Modi-Obama Meeting

Alyssa Ayres joins a wrap-up show to analyze Modi's visit to the United States hosted by News X, USINPAC, and the Sunday Guardian.

Watch

Article

After Wooing Diaspora, Modi Meets Obama

During Indian Prime Minister Modi's visit in the United States, Alyssa Ayres comments on the U.S.-India trade relationship for Al Jazeera.

Video Interview

Times Now: Money Meets Manpower

Alyssa Ayres appears on a panel for the Indian television news channel Times Now to discuss the meetings in Washington between Indian Prime Minister Modi and President Obama.

Watch

Article

Narendra Modi to U.S.: Let's Make a Deal

For Mint, Alyssa Ayres writes that Indian Prime Minister Modi's meetings with the U.S. business community will be the ones to watch during his visit to the United States.

Radio Interview

India Plays Chicken with the WTO

For Marketplace Morning Report, Alyssa Ayres discusses why India refused to sign the World Trade Organization agreement that was reached in Bali last year.

Listen

Article

A New World Order

Alyssa Ayres provides comment on the new BRICS bank for the New America Foundation's Weekly Wonk.

Article

Xi Calls Modi to APEC Meeting, Scores Over U.S.

Alyssa Ayres's Policy Innovation Memorandum arguing that the United States should support India's membership in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperaton (APEC) forum is cited in the Times of India following Chinese president Xi Jinping's invitation to India's prime minister Modi to attend the next APEC meeting.

Article

China Invites India's Modi for APEC Summit but Rivalry Simmers

After Chinese president Xi Jinping extended an invitation to Indian prime minister Modi to attend the next Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, Alyssa Ayres's Policy Innovation Memorandum arguing that the United States should support India's membership in APEC is cited by Reuters.

Article

Modi Doubles Down on the Neighborhood

For YaleGlobal Online, Alyssa Ayres writes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is focused on a pragmatic economic growth strategy through the strengthening of relations in India's neighborhood.

Article

How Modi Can Bring U.S. Businesses Back to India

For CNNMoney's Fortune, Alyssa writes that Narendra Modi, the newly elected prime minister of the world's largest democracy, has broad support in parliament and backs pro-business policies.

Article

U.S. Media Hails 'India's Moment' in Modi's Historical Win

In a piece highlighting the U.S. reaction to the Indian election results in the Hindustan Times, Alyssa Ayres says that the United States should focus on Narendra Modi's top campaign issue--trade and economics--rather than his past.

Radio Interview

USINPAC Post-Election Analysis Webinar

Alyssa Ayres joins Kanwal Sibal, Ashley Tellis, and Anirudh Krishna for a webinar hosted by USINPAC to discuss the results of the Indian election.

Listen

Article

The Business of Peace: Modi the Peacemaker?

For Ozy Media, Alyssa Ayres comments on the prospects of normalizing India-Pakistan relations through trade if the nationalist Bharatiya Nationalist Party wins the election as expected.

Video Interview

Asia Society: "Asia 2025: A Path Toward Peace and Prosperity"

Alyssa Ayres serves as a panelist in an event convened by Asia Society in New York alongside the former prime minister of Pakistan, China's ambassador to the U.S., senior vice president for Asian and Japan chair at CSIS, Singapore's ambassador to the U.S., and the CEO for Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Americas at Standard Chartered. The panel discussion was part of a half-day forum marking the formal launch of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

Watch

Video Interview

Why India's Election Matters

CFR's Alyssa Ayres appears on the Wall Street Journal Live "OpinionJournal" to explain what's at stake as the world's largest democracy heads to the polls.

Watch

India's Orwellian Book Bans

CFR's Alyssa Ayres appears on the Wall Street Journal Live "OpinionJournal" to explain the limits of free speech in India after Penguin India decided to withdraw from the market Wendy Doniger's book, The Hindus: An Alternative History.

U.S. Reaches Out to India's Modi

In the Wall Street Journal, Alyssa Ayres comments on the U.S. decision to establish contact with Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's candidate for prime minister, and the Indian court decision not to prosecute Modi due to insufficient evidence of his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots.

Indian Envoy Returns Home After U.S. Indictment

In the Wall Street Journal, Alyssa Ayres comments on the state of U.S.-India relations in light of the return of Devyani Khobragade, the Indian consular official indicted for visa fraud, to India.