Ties Between South and Central AsiaRichard A. Boucher , Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
September 14, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I want to thank SAIS and all of you for having me today. Thank you for inviting me and inaugurating a series of lectures on South Asia. My only criticism is that I hope that some day it will become lectures on South and Central Asia. It was a strategic move that we made at the State Department to put these two parts of the region together. It gives me a chance to work on the whole thing, but especially to work on the chance to develop ties between South and Central Asia. That's a very important part of what we are doing. So I hope you can expand your empire the way that I have expanded mine and that I will one day be able to inaugurate a South and Central Asia series of lectures.
Obviously, South Asia is a very critical place for the United States. It is a critical, developing place, but one where the dynamic is essentially positive. Our job is to encourage a lot of positive things and help people in positive directions. When I am arguing for resources inside the State Department for South and Central Asia, I like to say that we have to work with one quarter of humanity and therefore, obviously, I need one quarter of the chairs, conference rooms, and computers. But I have to admit that the South Asia portion is just about the quarter there, maybe a quarter minus a penny. South Asia remains – by virtue of its population, economic growth, and the critical issues –someplace the United States has an awful lot of interest in.
It's also a place that has contributed enormously to the United States. If you look at the two to three million Indian-Americans, for example; the 80,000 Indian students in the United States; as well as all the people from Pakistan, the Pakistani-American community, the Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese -- it's an enormous and growing segment of our society. The South Asians in the United States represent a very important and dynamic community. They have contributed a lot to the growth of the United States: the kind of economy we enjoy, the kind of health care we enjoy, as well as the kind of education and academic systems that we enjoy. It's an important and vital region for us.
Some days when you get up in the morning to work on South Asia, you wonder why nothing good ever happens in this region. There are, almost every morning, stories of bombings, terrorist attacks, breakdowns of peace talks, and god knows what else that can happen. There are a lot of problems, a lot of problems we're working on, but the basic story is a positive one. It's a story of economic reform. It's a story of building more moderate societies. It's a story of trying to develop better democracies. And it's a story of increasing regional cooperation. Those aren't stories that you notice on a day to day basis, but I think that is the underlying trend and that's why it's such an exciting and dynamic region to work on these days.
What can the United States do about this? What can we do to contribute to these trends? Let me say four things. The first, which will not surprise any of you, is to fight terror. We need to fight terrorism, all kinds of terrorism everywhere. This region, South Asia, has seen all too much terrorism, all too much violence. We are working very hard with the people in the region to get rid of it. In India, we have seen a series of terrorist attacks. We've seen horrible attacks recently in Mumbai and Malegaon. These are just awful things that afflict society there. They have roots in the region as well as ties in India. We need to work with them throughout the region. As we grieve with them we also want to cooperate with them and, in turn, with others to try to stop the affliction that has come to India in this way and support their efforts to fight terrorism.
Pakistan is a place where extremism and terrorism has troubled society there. We've seen a major effort by Pakistan against terrorism. We've seen the banning of several of the Kashmiri groups. We've seen a lot of success in the fighting of Al-Qaeda. I think it's safe to say that no nation has captured or stopped more Al-Qaeda nor lost more people doing it than Pakistan. We need to recognize that. Now we've seen Pakistan turn on the Taliban as well. The statements that President Musharraf has made, both domestically and in terms of his visit to Afghanistan last week, show a real determination on his part to get at the scourge of terrorism as it afflicts Pakistani society and also as it affects the region and threatens all of us and that his goals for Pakistani society can be achieved as long as these violent extremists are allowed to or are able to operate and he is determined to get at them.
Bangladesh, a little more than a year ago, we saw 400-500 bombs go off simultaneously. Working with the government there, they have arrested the ringleaders of this, but need to get the whole networks. We are doing a lot of liaison with them, working with them, and training for them.
Then, obviously, there are the problems with Afghanistan where we are dealing with the terrorism issue. We can talk about what's going with Afghanistan maybe more later. Essentially, what we are trying to do is trying to push good governance out to the edges of the country, to the areas where it has not been so prevalent. We have the government going out, the drug-eradicators going out, the NATO troops going out, and the development people going out into these areas where they are challenging the people that are there -- the Taliban, the Al Qaeda, the local war lords, the criminals, the local drug pushers. We're fighting back. We've got to push through. It's a dangerous period, but if we're ever going to beat the (inaudible), the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism, we've got to make sure they don't have a place to hide in Afghanistan, in segments of the country where they don't get drug funding. It's a horrible thing when drugs funding starts fueling terrorism.
The second part of what we are trying to do is to ensure the success of modern societies, modern democratic societies. Again, if you look at South Asia, you look at Central Asia too, you see a lot of people that are on a critical path to either solidifying or sustaining a democracy or trying to build one.
And really, again, it comes back to Pakistan. It comes back to Pakistan in not just fighting terrorism, but also the success of Pakistan as a success, as a moderate Muslim and democratic society. That's why our involvement in Pakistan is such an across the board one. That is why we spend all the money we do in Pakistan on development. That's why we spend $100 million or more every year on education in Pakistan. That's why we spend money on economic reform, on developing new industries; why we've opened up trade in Pakistan ; why we're trying to diversify their exports and get their tribal areas to be brought into the modern economy. We want Pakistan to succeed. We want Pakistan 's success along the lines of what President Musharraf has laid out: a moderate, Muslim, democratic nation. Ultimately, that kind of democratic stability in Pakistan and elsewhere is crucial to the success that we all want to have as free societies.
Same kind of issues in play in places like Bangladesh, where they are coming up on elections, which we are pushing hard -- that they are free and fair and peaceful and credible for everybody in the country. There are issues of how you achieve moderate democracy in Nepal. There is now a cease fire, but the political parties need to be able to lead towards a better future for the country. Obviously, Afghanistan, same issues in play.
Sri Lanka, the same issues in play, where a democratic government needs to show its respect for human rights, but it needs to fight a terrorist group or bring them to the table to negotiate the differences. We hope that recent statements by the Tamil Tigers do indicate that they are willing to sit down seriously with the government and negotiate on the basis of the ceasefire that should be respected and on a real desire to achieve a political solution to the problems that the Tamil people have faced in Sri Lanka.
The third big category after fighting terrorism and building moderate societies is the economic aspect. Economic prosperity is everyone's goal in the region. The United States has a lot we can do to help. In addition to all the benefits of trade and investment with the United States, we are working in any number of areas with any number of countries, whether it's trying to conclude a threshold of the Millennium Challenge program in Sri Lanka or trying to enhance the economic benefits for Afghanistan and Pakistan when they work together on producing goods.
Another aspect of this is the civilian nuclear arrangement that we negotiated with India. It's a big deal. It's a big deal from a lot of points of view. It was concluded during the prime,inister's visit after long negotiations. If you look at it, this effort goes back to previous administrations in both the United States and in India. I understand as part of this series you might have some representatives from that early effort come and explain to you where they started and how far they got. In any case, the president was able to conclude a satisfactory arrangement in March and now we have been trying to carry it out and bring forward things like a real cooperation between the United States and India, but also between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency, between India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which they always saw as the perpetrators of what they saw as “nuclear apartheid.”
This nuclear arrangement is not just good for nuclear proliferation, and we certainly think it is, but it's also good in terms of a signal of how much India 's relations with the entire Western world are changing. That's a good thing that we all need to encourage. Legislation is moving itself through Congress. We got a very, very strong bipartisan vote in the House in the summertime and we hope to get a similarly strong and bipartisan vote from the Senate this month. Obviously, it's a very crowded calendar, but we're still hopeful that that can be achieved and then they'll go to conference and hopefully work out some of the problems that we and others have with the legislation and then we will be in a position to move forward.
The final area I wanted to highlight was enhancing regional cooperation. After all these things we do with individual countries, fighting terrorism, building moderate democratic societies, and enhancing the economic prosperity, regional cooperation remains very important to us. As we've looked at region after region around the world, the more nations in a region do together, the better it is. You see the same patterns here as you see in Asia and South America in the past, and that is that each of these countries tends to trade more with outsiders than they do with each other. They export more to the United States than they do to each other. That may make sense by the size of our economy, but it doesn't make sense by the trade routes and the opportunities they really have the more they work together.
We've been strong supporters of regional cooperation. We've been asked to be observers and we have been accepted as observers now in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. We've been strong supporters of the South Asian Free Trade Arrangement that just went into effect this year. When I first started talking about this with other people around the government and various economists they sort of laughed and said “it's a weak arrangement and it's going to be undercut by the players, they're going to have too many exceptions, too many products that don't qualify.” But, in the end, it's a good start and it's something we would really like to see make work. It's something that we would like the countries take very seriously and develop. Hopefully, in our observer status we can open our mouths every now and then and applaud it, at least, if not voice some helpful suggestions on how to get better free trade in the region.
There has, as I said, been good progress in other areas of regional cooperation. The Pakistan-Afghanistan meetings recently were very good and we'll try to add to that. India-Pakistan had really, over the last couple years, shown great statesmanship and shown some real progress. Unfortunately, the Mumbai bombings and many of the doubts that were raised at that point about how the fight against terrorism was being conducted kind of led to a hiatus, you might say, in those discussions. We hope that the Indian and Pakistani leaders who are due to meet any day now, we hope that they will find a basis to resume the talks because it is in all our interest to see progress between India and Pakistan, particularly on the tough issues like Kashmir. They've done a good job on focusing on some of these issues. We hope they can find a way to move forward and do something real. In this case, the United States' role is perhaps to offer constant encouragement and urge them to make progress. We don't have a direct role in the talks.
The United States does, though, have a very big and important role to play in this region. We are often perhaps the outsiders, but can offer a bit of focus. We can certainly offer a lot of assistance, and we do. We spend a lot of our development budget in this region. What they can achieve is very important for the world: India as a global power; India as a positive player in many issues from UN issues to nuclear non-proliferation issues; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal as good examples of stable development and moderate societies; all these countries as examples of free markets and free trade and what they can achieve for their people; Afghanistan, instead of being the obstacle it's been for decades, even centuries, as a buffer between Central and South Asia can become a pivot to give more opportunities to the countries of Central Asia and opportunities for the countries of South Asia. We think a lot of these processes underway are critical and we hope that through our effort we can help this goodly quarter of humanity achieve the kind of stability and democracy and prosperity that they deserve and that they want.