Alyssa Ayres

Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia


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

All Publications


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

Author: Alyssa Ayres

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

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.

Read full answer

See more in India; Elections


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

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


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

Current Projects

U.S. Relations with South Asia Roundtable Series

Director: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
October 15, 2013—Present

The U.S. Relations with South Asia Roundtable Series is an ongoing series that provides a forum for leading U.S. and South Asia experts to analyze domestic and foreign policy in the region, with a focus on business and economic issues.

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound

CFR Events

General Meeting ⁄ New York

The New Indian Government


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


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.


Conference Call

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


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Video Interview

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.


Alyssa Ayres is senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. She served most recently as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia during 2010–2013, covering all issues across a dynamic region of 1.3 billion people (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan), and providing policy direction and support 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 led the India and South Asia practice at McLarty Associates, the Washington-based international strategic advisory firm, from 2008–2010. She joined the firm after serving in the U.S. Department of State as special assistant to the undersecretary for political affairs as a Council on Foreign Relations 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). She blogs regularly at CFR's Asia Unbound, and is a Forbes contributor.

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.