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Deepening U.S. Engagement In South Asia

The Kashmiri people have shown they want to pursue the path of peace, and now it is time for India and Pakistan to do their part to resume diplomatic dialogue at the earliest possible opportunity. This dialogue will have to address all the issues tha

Deepening U.S. Engagement In South Asia
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The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs - Remarks to the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC, October 10, 2002

Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss South Asia, a region whose importance to U.S. foreign policy has increased dramatically over the last year. Anyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on a television can see daily evidence of our involvement in the region. Working in partnership with all of the countries of South Asia to ensure stability, security, economic development, and democratization has become critical to our global foreign policy objectives. There are enormous challenges ahead. But overcoming these challenges and moving forward toward these goals is a primary focus of this Administration and will require sustained U.S. attention for many years to come. In short, we’re engaged for the long haul.

Today, I would like to review how we have already begun deepening our engagement in the region and can begin by pointing to some of the achievements in South Asia over just the last year.

Promoting Security and Stability in Afghanistan

In terms of increasing regional stability, Afghanistan has seen some of the most remarkable and positive changes over the last year. Following the rapid ouster of the Taliban by Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan is in the early stages of recovery from over twenty years of war. Coalition forces continue to work with the Afghans to eliminate the remnants of the Taliban, al- Qaida and other terrorist groups. Afghanistan is now well on its way on the road to stability and recovery.

Two weeks ago during the Afghan Reconstruction Steering Group meeting, Secretary Powell stated clearly the goals shared by Afghans and the international community -- to build an Afghanistan that is politically accountable, economically viable, and secure. To achieve those goals, Afghanistan faces many challenges. It must:

  • Consolidate security, without which economic reconstruction and political stability will fail. The U.S.–led coalition, with the International Security Assistance Force, will continue to exert a stabilizing presence in the country. At the same time, the international community must press forward to train and equip a new civilian-controlled army and a police force.

  • Strengthen political stability according to the roadmap accepted at Bonn in December 2001. We must all help the transitional administration tighten the reins of legitimate power given to it by the Loya Jirga, and we must all come together to support President Karzai's effort to unify the country.

  • Accelerate reconstruction and development to bolster the Bonn process and reduce dependence on donors. We need to take a hard look at whether the $4.5 billion pledged in Tokyo for the next five years is enough to meet immediate and longer term needs. President Bush has recently signed into law a supplemental appropriation which includes close to $280 million in new money for Afghanistan.

  • Continue to meet significant humanitarian needs as reconstruction proceeds. About two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan this year, but several million more await repatriation.

  • Promote respect for human rights by working with new Afghan groups who are trying to recreate a culture of tolerance and respect for all Afghans, including women. Just last month fourteen women representing various Afghan government ministries traveled to the United States to study computer skills and communications and leadership management. This program, designed by the Department in association with the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, allowed participants to meet and build relationships with U.S. government officials, representatives of NGO’s, and members of the donor community.

Building a Partnership with Pakistan

Another positive development contributing to overall stability in the region has been the deepening relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, which has become an indispensable ally in our efforts to uproot al-Qaida and other terrorist networks. President Musharraf has denounced extremism and vowed to prevent the use of Pakistan as a base for terrorism. His government has banned all of the major extremist groups, frozen their assets, and arrested many of their members. New arrests of extremists are announced regularly—-such as that of key al Qaida leader Ramzi Binalshibh last month--although continuing terror attacks in Pakistan demonstrate that the extremists remain a threat.

To enhance security and foster the rule of law, the United States and Pakistan have launched a Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism and Law Enforcement that held its first session here in Washington in May. We are committed to helping Pakistan modernize and strengthen its law enforcement capabilities.

It is in the interest of the U.S. and all of Pakistan’s neighbors for Pakistan to develop as a politically stable and economically prosperous society with a well-educated population. President Musharraf has identified economic and social reform as critical priorities for his government. We are supporting these efforts bilaterally as well as through International Financial Institutions. During his visit last month, Finance Minister Aziz helped inaugurate the U.S.-Pakistan Business Council and we hope to soon kick off the U.S.-Pakistan Joint Working Group on Trade and Investment. These efforts will encourage and facilitate greater U.S.-Pakistan economic ties.

The restoration of democracy and civilian rule within a constitutional framework is crucial to long-term stability in Pakistan. We welcome today’s holding of multi-party National and Provincial elections. They are an important step towards the restoration of full democracy in Pakistan. The next crucial step will be the transfer of power to the new National Assembly and provincial assemblies. We will continue to watch this process closely. We hope that President Musharraf will take advantage of these elections to develop a dialogue with the political leadership on how to build sustainable and credible Pakistani democratic institutions.

Strategic Relationship with India

As the President’s National Security Strategy makes clear, we view India as a major emerging democratic power in the world. We have made enormous strides in the past year toward building a broad-based, strategic relationship with India, fulfilling one of the President’s top priorities. I was in India two weeks ago to launch our regional dialogue—-a set of talks designed to make transparent to the Indians our multi-varied activities in the region and to highlight the commonality of interests that we share. They highlighted our mutual interests in supporting democratic development, political stability, and economic growth and reform. These talks also will allow us to increase mutual understanding of regional developments, to cooperate more closely when our interests converge, and to work through any policy differences more smoothly.

We also are breaking new ground by expanding military cooperation with India in the areas of technology, research and development, sales and licensing and peacekeeping. Our joint exercises, including one in which U.S. troops have gone to India and one in which Indian forces have come to the U.S., are unprecedented.

Counterterrorism cooperation also is maturing rapidly, including intelligence sharing, training, finance and anti-money laundering cooperation, improving border security, fighting cyber-terrorism, and increasing mutual legal assistance. Again, we have a common interest in tracking down and eliminating terrorist groups that view the entire world as their area of operation, and our cooperation is growing daily.

In the area of business and commerce, we have an on-going economic dialogue to facilitate private sector investment and cooperation. We hope to see this dialogue expand as there is enormous untapped potential for commerce between our two large and dynamic economies. Greater cooperation in knowledge-based industries—-like information technology, telecommunications, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals—-can accelerate development and poverty alleviation in India. The dialogue also will be important in offering a forum to discuss regional and global economic issues like Afghan reconstruction, energy security, the global trading system and the new trade round, and development assistance flows.

It is a mark of the maturity of our partnership that we can now engage on other contentious issues rather than let our relationship be defined by them. On non-proliferation, for example, we have an active exchange of views with the Indians. Washington and New Delhi share the common goal of a strategically stable Asia and the prevention of the further spread of weapons of mass destruction. In that regard, the U.S. has encouraged India to bring its export control laws and practices in line with international standards and offered various forms of assistance to help India continue on this path.

Encouraging Peace Process in Sri Lanka

In what is probably the most encouraging and positive story in South Asia, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE held their first round of formal talks last month in Thailand, and have scheduled further rounds for later this year. After almost two decades of ethnic conflict, costing well over 60,000 lives, a serious peace process is now under way, with Norway’s help and the support of the U.S. and other countries. The longest ceasefire in 19 years has been in place since late last year, offering new hope to Sri Lankans burdened by war and terrorism.

We believe that a peace settlement is possible if both parties continue to demonstrate the constructive and serious approach that has brought the process to this point. The people of Sri Lanka deserve nothing less. Everyone should understand, however, that the path will not be smooth and that this is just the first step. We will continue to urge a negotiated settlement, which has as its goal a nation that is whole, at peace, and respects the rights of all of its citizens.

Reinforcing Democratic Principles

Against this backdrop of progress in the region, however, lies a long road of critical challenges for U.S. policy. We will have to work diligently to encourage continued democratization of the region. South Asian nations are promoting democratic principles, yet some face very tough obstacles along the way.

Bangladesh

A moderate Muslim democracy, Bangladesh last year saw its third transfer of power through free and fair elections. These elections keep Bangladesh on the road toward strengthened democratic institutions. Bangladesh has also made impressive strides in addressing key economic challenges: in particular, Bangladesh has succeeded in dramatically reducing its birth rate, in improving literacy rates, in delivering social services to its people, and in empowering women through education and employment, all of which contribute positively to democratic development. Not all of Bangladesh’s challenges have been resolved, however. Deep and bitter political rivalries between the two main political parties as well as continued corruption threaten political stability and impede economic reform and growth. The future course of democracy in Bangladesh will depend on the major political parties working together to solve the problems facing the nation.

Nepal

Nepal’s emerging democracy has faced numerous struggles, which threaten to derail the achievements of the past twelve years. The greatest challenge is a brutal Maoist insurgency that has left over 5,000 dead in the last six years. The Maoists have employed ruthless tactics in the field and conducted terrorist attacks against both government targets and innocent civilians.

The Nepalese government has a right and duty to protect its citizens, within the framework of the constitution. We regret, however, that the uncertain security situation has forced a postponement of the elections originally scheduled for November 13. King Gyanendra has formed an all-party government that will rule Nepal until new elections are scheduled and held. As a friend of Nepal, we believe the preservation of the constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy is crucial to resolving this national crisis. We firmly believe the actions of the King and political parties need to be in accordance with Nepal’s constitution.

The United States, along with others in the international community, recognize the importance of assisting Nepal as it works to combat these challenges. The U.S. is finalizing plans to provide increased security and development assistance to Nepal based on the findings of inter-agency teams recently sent to the region.

Greatest Challenge: Indo-Pakistani Tensions

The most difficult task the U.S. faces in the region, though, is that of defusing Indo-Pakistani tensions, which pose the greatest obstacle to overall progress in South Asia. Pakistanis and Indians alike will not be able to reap the benefits of regional economic development and cooperation unless they build a more stable relationship. On-going conflict between India and Pakistan not only risks dangerous escalation, it also limits the ability of both countries to seize opportunities to better the lives of their own people.

These tensions almost reached the breaking point this past spring. The world feared the possibility of another Indo-Pakistani war--one that, given their demonstrated nuclear capabilities, could have long-lasting and devastating consequences for the entire region. With the assistance of the U.S., UK, and others, India and Pakistan barely averted war at that time, but the threat has not disappeared. We remain deeply concerned about the continued deployment of forces along their shared border and Line of Control, repeated terrorist incidents, and the lack of communication between the two hostile neighbors.

For that reason, we continue to work with both sides to find mutually acceptable ways to start de-escalating. President Musharraf has repeatedly committed to ending permanently support for infiltration from his country. Pakistan needs to hold to this pledge in order to begin resolving the immediate crisis and to remove more fundamental differences with India. We look to Islamabad to follow through on this commitment in a concerted and proactive manner.

As the de-escalation process begins, we will look for specific steps aimed at addressing the problems in Kashmir. We welcome the successful conclusion of elections in Kashmir on Tuesday. PM Vajpayee's personal commitment to making them transparent and open was critical to this process. We abhor and condemn the violence during the elections that was aimed at disrupting the democratic process and intimidating the Kashmiri people. And we commend the courage of the candidates and voters who chose to participate despite the violence and intimidation. We also welcome the assurances that reports of irregularities, including alleged coercion by the security forces, will be fully investigated by the Indian authorities. It is important that these investigations are followed through. We hope these elections will be the first step in a broader process that will help bring peace to the region.

The Kashmiri people have shown they want to pursue the path of peace, and now it is time for India and Pakistan to do their part to resume diplomatic dialogue at the earliest possible opportunity. This dialogue will have to address all the issues that divide them, including Kashmir. A lasting settlement, which reflects the views of the Kashmiri people, can only be achieved through dialogue. We also welcome the Indian government's commitment to begin a dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We hope this dialogue will address issues, such as governance, human rights, and economic development. The United States envisions a solution to the conflict that is peaceful and honorable for all sides, allowing Kashmiris, who have suffered the most, to live their daily lives in security, dignity, and prosperity.

Only a productive and sustained dialogue between India and Pakistan will prevent future crises and finally bring peace to the region. The international community cannot afford to sit back and wait for the next crisis to erupt. The stakes are too high. And that is why we are committed to staying engaged, in the months and years ahead, helping both parties resolve their differences.

So, as you can see--despite the progress in South Asia since September 11, 2001—-we still have our work cut out for us over the coming years. And with that, I will conclude my remarks. I am happy to take any questions you may have.

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