Recently appointed Indian-American Chief of Staff to Acting Defence Secretary speaks about 9/11, Kashmir, safeguarding regional security in the Indian Ocean through the Quad and the UK-USA special relationship.
The Pentagon named Indian-American Kash Patel as the Chief of Staff to the Acting US Defence Secretary Chris Miller earlier this month. His appointment appears after President Donald Trump fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper and designated the National Counter Terrorism Centre Director, Chris Miller, as the Acting Defence Secretary. Now, Miller has appointed Kash Patel as his Chief of Staff, one of the very few Indian-Americans to execute Mr. Trump’s directives and crucially at a time when America carves its way through a potential change in the administration. But for the next 70 days, Mr. Patel is “full steam ahead” in executing directives from the White House.
In an exclusive interview with the Asian Voice, he stressed, “The current administration serves until 20th January and we are full steam ahead on all the priorities and policy objectives of President Trump. Whatever happens after that is for the voters, the law and the courts to decide. But until then we are not dialling down on our strategies and continuing with our work and efforts as directed by the White House.”
Fleeing Idi Amin’s dictatorship
39-year-old Kash Patel is born to immigrant parents Anjanaben from Tanzania and Pramodbhai from Uganda. His grandfather, Rameshbhai was originally from Bhadran in Gujarat who spent his entire working life in Jinja, Uganda, and died in the 1970s after suffering from a fatal cardiac arrest. Escaping Idi Amin’s brutal administration, the Patel family entered America through Canada and eventually settled in Queens, in New York, famous as “little India”.
Speaking about growing up in New York, Mr. Patel said, “My father had to go through the difficult journey of escaping Idi Amin’s dictatorship in Uganda before eventually settling down in America. I was raised in New York and was fortunate that my parents focused on my education. My mum did not want me to be a Navy even as I thought serving in the Navy would have been a great career as well. Instead, she ensured that I went to college and law school and gradually pursued a career in counter-terrorism.”
Influence of 9/11 attacks
He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Richmond before returning to New York to earn his law degree, along with a Certificate in International Law from University College London Faculty of Laws in the United Kingdom. He began his career in Florida where he practised as a public defender for four years, trying scores of complex cases ranging from murder to narco-trafficking, to complex financial crimes in jury trials in state and federal courts. He moved to Washington DC as a terrorism prosecutor at the Department of Justice (DoJ). It was during his time at the DoJ, that he explains, he had a series of interactions with the then Chief of Counter-Terrorism and gradually went on to serve as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism (CT) at the National Security Council (NSC) in 2019. A long-standing Trump loyalist, he oversaw several operations including eliminating ISIS and Al Qaeda leadership Abu al-Baghdadi and Qasem al-Rimi. He also executed the safe repatriation of about 55 Americans either held hostage or illegally detained from over 20 countries including Syria, Kenya and Uganda.
Discussing the “massive influence” that the 9/11 attacks has had on his career pathway, he said, “I was a junior in college in Queens, Long Island and I remember my sister was working in Downtown Manhattan within blocks of the World Trade Centre when 9/11 happened. My hometown in Garden City had the most casualties in both towers during 9/11 and that tragedy has hugely impacted most Americans including me. I knew then that nothing is more important than serving the country’s national interest and I gradually found myself entering the realm of national security.”
Quad an extremely important partnership
President Trump has been determined in pulling out American troops from the Middle-East in an attempt to shift his focus to combat the rise of China. From imposing tariffs on Chinese imports which resulted in a global trade war to the formation of the Quad, President Trump is relying on rigorous naval and military drills with India, Japan and Australia to combat the Dragon’s naval expansion in the South China Sea. While the Chinese premiership has been quick to dismiss any anxieties around project Malabar, Mr. Patel believes that the partnership is “extremely important” to ensure regional security in the area.
He said, “The Quad is an extremely important partnership between the nations involved as has been demonstrated by the exercises in the Indian Ocean in the past few weeks. It is a critical part of the world in South East Asia which we rely on and these exercises are invaluable in providing regional security.”
Kashmir, Pakistan and extradition of Hafiz Saeed
China’s expansion has been multi-pronged and Pakistan’s partnership in its Belt and Road Initiative has concerned India especially with regards to interference in Kashmir. President Trump has on previous occasions offered to intervene in the Kashmir deadlock, Mr. Patel has towed with caution in stating that Kashmir is a “bilateral issue” that needs to be resolved “peacefully” between India and Pakistan. In the meantime, New Delhi has made repeated requests with Islamabad to handover UN-designated terrorist and mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai attacks Hafiz Saeed with no success. Recently, Pakistani courts sentenced the Founder of terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba to ten years of a jail sentence. Yet, Intelligence Experts in New Delhi are hawkish of the “smokescreen” judgment considering Pakistan’s track record on terrorism.
Emphasising how the US will continue to support India in her combat of terrorism, Mr. Patel said, “We will continue our partnership with the Indian government and if they wish to request for us to assist them in such matters including hunting down international terrorists and or finding evidence for assisting in prosecution, we will take them as they come. We have always been willing and able to help our allies especially close countries such as India.”
No better ally than the UK
But to balance the scales against China, America also understands that it would need to strengthen existing relationships with the UK. There has been increasing speculation in the media that the signing of the UK-USA Free Trade Agreement is no easy feat at a time when the UK has chosen to divorce from the EU. But Mr. Patel believes that the UK-USA “special relationship will never change” regardless of the changing world order.
He said, “I don’t think that the UK-USA relationship will never change. Half of my family is in the UK. I can assure you that we don’t have a better partner in the world than in the UK. I don’t see that relationship changing in any form irrespective of how the UK handles their domestic matters such as Brexit and their negotiations with the EU will not and should not negatively impact the UK-USA relations.”
Regardless of whoever occupies POTUS after January 20th, there will be a significant focus on cementing diplomatic and bilateral channels when the UK Army Chief has already cautioned that the world is headed towards a “war-like” situation.
His sister Nisha and aunt Meenakshiben live in the UK with respective families.