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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2004

New Horizons in United States Relations with South Asia

Christina B. Rocca, Assistant Secretary for South Asia Affairs
University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Advanced Study of India
Philadelphia, PA
April 21, 2004

Thank you for your warm welcome. I am very glad to be here today at the University of Pennsylvania, home to one of our country’s most prestigious communities of scholars engaged in the study of South Asia. The Center for the Advanced Study of India, of course, is one of several leading American academic institutions that have served an important role in fostering the study of India by American scholars and the global community of scholars concerned with India. So it is great to have a chance to come visit you today, to meet you informally, and talk together about what we do.

South Asia scholars have long repeated a special “mantra” of their own: That it is critical for Americans to know more about this region, its history, its multiple cultures and its people. Your message has been received -- the jump of South Asia to the top of Washington’s agenda is one of the major foreign policy shifts of the past three years.

The growing academic interest in South Asia parallels the increased importance of the region for foreign policy makers, now facing some of the greatest challenges of our generation. At the State Department, and within the foreign affairs community, there is a growing need for people who understand South Asia’s history, its languages and cultures and our complex relations with the region to inform our decisions during the policy formation process. U.S. businesses have discovered a need for people familiar with their growing regional list of clients and subcontractors. So opportunities in your line of business look good.

New Horizons

The changes that we have seen in South Asia and in the U.S. ties to the countries of the region over the past few years have been enormous and South Asia is getting the serious attention of the most senior policy makers in the United States government.

Significant progress is being made by South Asian nations to remove the constraints of conflict and tensions and engage ever more actively with the new global economy. India is rapidly fulfilling its potential as one of the world’s great economies, fueled by the IT revolution. A stable and rebuilt Afghanistan is nearly ready to resume its historical place as a crossroads of trade between South Asia and Central Asia. An end to the conflicts in Nepal, Sri Lanka and between India and Pakistan could free the enormous human resources and creative energies that are the hallmarks of all countries in South Asia.

“Hope springs eternal,” goes the saying. Well, it is a springtime of hope here in America for South Asia. But we have come to learn that it takes a great deal more than hope to bring about needed changes for the better.

United States Policy toward South Asia in the Context of our Global Objectives

The September 11 terrorist attacks on America were a watershed in our relations with South Asia as well as a clarion call to action in our foreign policy community. Even before his term began, President Bush saw a need to transform our relationship with India. Then, as now, we were deeply concerned about the dangers associated with nuclear weapons in the region, but we needed to move beyond the constraints that proliferation sanctions legislation placed on our ability to effectively pursue this and other important goals with India.

And then Afghanistan and Pakistan became the front lines of the Global War on Terror, with repercussions for the entire region and our relationships there.

Defending our vital national security interests in the war on terror remains our principal global foreign policy priority. This will be a long and difficult struggle. In cooperation with the countries of South Asia we have already had notable successes in this war, and we are laying the groundwork for more. For example, in Afghanistan, we worked with Afghans to rout the Taliban and establish a central government. In Pakistan, the government captured notorious al Qaeda operational commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and September 11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh. Through a network of partnerships throughout the region we will achieve our goals of defeating terrorism and preventing the additional spread of weapons of mass destruction. We will do this through cooperation on security and law enforcement, but more importantly, we will consolidate and preserve our gains by encouraging and supporting freedom and democracy, development and human dignity. Meeting these goals in South Asia is not incidental to U.S. foreign policy or to the interests of the South Asian states, it is essential for the free and prosperous world we all seek.

Last month, I traveled with Secretary of State Powell to South Asia. As part of the planning for such trips, and afterward, we often make an effort to review where things stand in our relationships in the region. I’ll try to give you an updated snapshot. I’ll start with India.

India – A New Strategic Relationship

With India we see great promise for a partnership offering enormous benefits to both our countries. The challenge before us is to fulfill that potential.

The U.S. – India political relationship is rapidly maturing and is probably better than it has ever been since 1947. The two countries’ leaders meet often and speak with each other even more often. Our military ties are growing as well, with army, air force and naval exercises steadily expanding in frequency and scope. We consult regularly on cooperation against terrorism and a wide range of other issues. Politicians in India and the United States have discovered what you as academics have known instinctively for years: that the world’s two largest democracies have always had more that ties us together than pulls us apart.

President Bush and Prime Minister Vajpayee, at their first summit in November 2001, presented a vision for the rapid transformation of the relationship between our two countries. Recently, the two leaders announced the next steps in implementing their shared vision, which will involve increased cooperation in civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programs and high technology trade. We have also agreed to expand our dialogue on strategic stability, including missile defense.

Another area for improvement is in our economic and commercial relations. India is projected to become the world's third largest economy by 2015, and we want it to be a strong trading and economic partner. India’s leadership sees that opening its economy and hastening reforms can make this projection a reality, allowing continued growth rates of 7-8%. Such growth has the potential to transform the lives of millions of Indians.

Yet we must also expand our commercial relationship. We are India’s largest trading partners, but our bilateral trade remains far below what it could be. Improving that situation is one of our primary objectives with India. Our Ambassador to India, David Mulford, is a financier who knows how to maximize business opportunities. He is working hard to overcome more quickly the barriers that still stand in the way of a significantly bigger, freer and more productive trade relationship between our two countries.

The progress in our relationship with India in the past few years is the result of a deep commitment, and a lot of hard work by both Indians and Americans—including people like you: you are part of a vast network of reinforcing ties that will allow our two nations to work closely and easily together over the entire spectrum of the relationships – between our governments, our businesses, our academics, scientists, health providers, technicians, researchers, artists and between our citizens. Such ties are the measure of truly strong international relationships and I am confident that this is where the US and India will be soon.

Pakistan – Helping us remove the threat of terrorism

The United States has had a long and, at times, complicated relationship with Pakistan -- a country that faces many political and economic challenges. Our goal is a Pakistan that is secure, prosperous and a moderate democracy, contributing to growth and stability in the region. To achieve those goals, we are committed for the long term to broaden and deepen our relationship with Pakistan.

Since September 2001 Pakistan has been a key ally in the Global War on Terrorism. The Pakistani government recognizes that terrorists are as much a threat to the Pakistani people as to anyone -- many innocent Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks in the last few years. Pakistan has captured more than 550 al-Qaida operatives and Taliban remnants. Its security forces are continuing operations, and taking casualties, against the Taliban and al Qaida along its border with Afghanistan, sometimes in the face of opposition from local residents.

Pakistan’s cooperation in the Global War on Terror has had costs for the government of Pakistan and for the country’s social fabric. This year, President Bush will be asking Congress to fund the first $600 million of a five-year $3 billion assistance initiative for Pakistan. These funds, and others already in train, will help Pakistan better prepare its forces for the fight against terrorism, against narcotics smugglers and against criminals, with equipment such as vehicles, helicopters, communications and surveillance equipment and fingerprinting systems. But we also want to help the Pakistani people. Consequently, we are financing 800 kilometers of roads, including in the historically off-limits tribal areas, refurbishing schools, building wells, and looking at ways to bring fresh water to those who need it. We will, if Congress agrees to fund the assistance plan, train 40,000 female federal, provincial and local councilors to legislate effectively. We will provide scholarships for mid-level civil servants and employees of NGOs to obtain advanced degrees in the US. We will launch teacher training programs and youth and adult literacy programs, and promote development of an independent media. We are exploring establishing burn units in local clinics, which will treat victims of so-called honor crimes, and will work to improve governmental transparency.

Further, last month, in Islamabad, Secretary Powell announced our intention to designate Pakistan a Major Non-NATO Ally – an indication of the special status and long-term nature of our relationship.

We are also working with Pakistan to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. President Musharraf has acted quickly and decisively to end the operations of A/Q/ Khan’s nuclear proliferation network. Dr. Khan and his associates are now being questioned, and we, Pakistan and other allies are using the information obtained to completely eradicate the network he created. We are working closely together to improve Pakistan’s export control system so that such damaging leaks of technology from Pakistan can never occur again.

All of these efforts demonstrate our commitment to a rich, long-term and multi-layered relationship with the Government and people of Pakistan as they work to build a secure, peaceful, prosperous and moderate democracy.

Pakistan and India – Seeking an End to Conflict

The threat to regional stability resulting from differences between Pakistan and India has long been a focus of American diplomacy in South Asia. As recently as the summer of 2002, war between India and Pakistan seemed possible. The international community worked hard to help our friends move back from the brink of a conflict that could have devastated and destabilized the region for years. The United States has been single minded in working to turn our parallel improvement of relations with India and Pakistan into what Secretary Powell has called a “triangle of conflict resolution.” “We do not impose ourselves as a mediator,” he said. Instead, we “try to use the trust we have established with both sides to urge them towards conciliation by peaceful means.”

The United States strongly supports these historic steps by India and Pakistan. The leaders of both countries deserve enormous credit for the statesmanship they are demonstrating and for their determination to turn their historic confrontation into opportunities for both of their people. Although the road ahead is certain to be challenging, we are optimistic that both sides want to keep up the momentum generated by these recent hopeful events.

Afghanistan – Frontline of the War on Terror

In Afghanistan we are transforming what had become one of the world’s principal sources of instability into a secure and prosperous country. Saying there is still a long way to go is an understatement -- but we are committed to finishing what we have started. Along with the international community, we are working with the Afghan people to consolidate that victory. The Afghans have had impressive success, so far, in rebuilding their country and their society. The Constitutional Loya Jirga has given Afghanistan a framework for a democratic system that will start getting fleshed out with elections scheduled by the government for September.

Afghans are now busy clearing away the ruins of two decades of conflict and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, education and health systems and security forces. Afghanistan’s leaders have effectively pursued forward-looking economic policies and adopted realistic national development strategies. Within Afghanistan, increased security and political stability have spurred refugees and the internally displaced to return to their homes, their fields and their businesses – and Afghanistan’s markets are once again thriving.

The international community continues to step forward in support of Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The United States has already provided over $2 billion in assistance to Afghanistan and we will provide $2.2 billion more during this year.

Constitutional democracy and reconstruction cannot succeed in Afghanistan without security – and the security situation remains difficult. In addition to training the Afghan National Army and an Afghan police force, the United States and our allies are also building a network of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) throughout the country to help provide for local security and coordinate development and reconstruction while easing the transition to civilian rule. We have been working closely with Japan and the UN to disarm and demobilize militias.

Continuing Taliban activities in southern and eastern Afghanistan threaten both Afghanistan's and Pakistan’s stability. But the international community is resolved that this region will not lapse again into the chaos from which it is emerging.

Bangladesh – Building Democracy to Insure a Brighter Future

By most normal indicators, the future for Bangladesh should be bright. A valued partner in the Global War on Terrorism as well as a moderate voice in regional and international fora, democratic Bangladesh has the fourth largest Muslim population in the world. In recent years Bangladesh has made marked progress in the economic arena and in some key areas of development. Bangladesh has become agriculturally self-sufficient; dramatically reduced its birth rate; improved literacy rates; delivered basic social services to its people; and empowered women through employment and education.

Yet deep and bitter political rivalries between the two leading political parties and one of the highest levels of corruption in the world threaten to undermine democratic stability and impede economic growth. We again encourage Bangladesh’s opposition parties to join the current parliamentary session and refrain from using socially and economically disruptive street agitation in an ill-conceived desire to simply deny power to political opponents.

It is up to the leadership of Bangladesh to put it on the path to sustainable development. The US commends the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission and hope that it will work aggressively to root out corruption wherever it may find it. Meanwhile, we are urging the government to continue its reform program by separating the lower judiciary from executive control; allowing freedom of association in its vital export processing zones; strengthening basic education; and creating an environment that will promote foreign investment. Democratic, economic and legal reforms are needed quickly. Immediate action is in Bangladesh’s interest and in the interest of the entire region.

Sri Lanka – Ending Conflict is Key to Prosperity

Sri Lanka, too, could be on the path to rapid development and economic growth if leaders of the new government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rededicate themselves to a successful peace process. The ceasefire of December 2001 is still holding. Military checkpoints have been reduced. There are increased social and commercial interactions between ethnic communities and a sense of normalcy returned to people’s daily lives.

It is time for the parties in Sri Lanka to resume the negotiation process with the help of the Norwegian government. There is no appetite among the Sri Lankan people for a return to war. The United States government joins the Sri Lankan people in urging their leaders to continue the path to peace and a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict.

We are prepared to do our part. Along with Japan, Norway, and the European Union, we co-chaired an international donors conference in Tokyo in June 2003 where $4.5 billion in humanitarian, reconstruction, and development assistance were pledged over the next three years. But those pledges were contingent on progress in the peace process. The United States will continue to urge a settlement that has as its goal a nation that is whole, at peace, and respectful of the rights of all its citizens.

Nepal – Political Crisis and Terrorist Insurgency Threaten Future Development

Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, faces serious political problems and an eight-year old terrorist insurgency that has killed over 2,000 people last twelve months. Our objective is to see a restoration of multi-party democracy and bring an end to the violence so that we can help Nepalis deal with the underlying economic, social and political problems that hold it back from achieving its potential. During our close 50-year relationship with Nepal, the country evolved from a closed, monarchy-dominated society into an emerging democracy with growing economic opportunity. During that time, we contributed more than $1 billion to improve the lives of the Nepalese people. Unfortunately, the Maoist insurgency has left more than 9000 people dead since 1996 and threatens to destroy much of this progress.

The Maoist insurgents, in their attempt to overthrow the government and replace it with an autocratic communist state, have destroyed schools and infrastructure, tortured and killed civilians, looted food from humanitarian aid projects, forcibly conscripted children, and assassinated government officials. In August 2003 the Maoists unilaterally withdrew from a seven-month ceasefire and immediately engaged once more in terrorist actions against the people and government of Nepal. In October, the U.S. designated the Maoists as terrorists under an executive order, subjecting them to financial sanctions.

But there can be no military solution to this conflict. The preservation of Nepal’s system of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy is key to defeating the Maoist challenge. The palace and the parties must unify – urgently -- under an all-party government as the first step to restoring democracy and presenting a unified front against the terrorist insurgents. At the same time, the government and the military must maintain a better human rights record. Fighting a ruthless enemy does not mean that their tactics can or should be adopted. Along with India, the UK, and others in the international community, we stand with the Government of Nepal in its continuing struggle against the brutal Maoist insurgency.

Conclusion – Giving South Asia a Bright Tomorrow

So those are a few of the projects occupying the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. But there is more for you to do than ever before, as well. Last year’s report cosponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society called on the international community, on corporations and foundations to help broaden funding for what they called “social-sector engagement.” The report noted that these partnerships “would also buttress and stabilize bilateral relationships from the inevitable bumps and troughs on the political side.”

I believe that we need to build on the work by you and your colleagues around the country to build enduring partnerships with South Asian institutions. There is merit, for example, in building partnerships between U.S. and Indian private institutions to help meet the huge demand for education in India. The India Business School in Hyderabad, for example, is a privately funded joint effort by the Wharton School of Business here at Penn and other institutions. The Aspen Institute is setting up an Aspen India in cooperation with the Confederation of Indian Industry. The Brookings Institution and Rand Corporation are both working on research projects with the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. The Asia Society recently held its prestigious Williamsburg Conference in New Delhi.

EdCil, India’s government agency charged with marketing Indian higher education has announced plans to promote India as a major educational destination in the coming years. We at the State Department are also interested in upgrading the number of American students and scholars doing work in South Asia. The State Department is promoting such a development through its exchange and grant programs and we hope to do more, much more. Our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is committed to spending a minimum of ten percent of its academic and professional exchanges budget on programs with South Asia. Further, we are enhancing the grant allowance for U.S. scholars and students working in the region: the U.S. Educational Foundation in India will be increasing stipends approximately 30% for students and 25% for lecturers and senior research scholars.

From the perspective of the policymakers, South Asia scholars at American institutions provide vital bridges of understanding between the United States and the countries in the region. American scholars have done groundbreaking work on the history of the region – of its languages, cultural diversity and religions. Others have contributed meaningfully to peacemaking efforts, such as those who participated in the Neemrana “people-to-people” process between India and Pakistan some years ago.

The interests of the United States and South Asia have converged-we are at a unique place in time and history for building and cementing strong ties between our nations and our peoples, and we are determined to do so. The region is now, and will long remain, at the forefront of America’s foreign policy concerns. We in government will continue to strengthen our partnerships with all of its countries. We are committed to help South Asia achieve the bright future that it deserves. At the same time, we are counting on you in the academic community both for intellectual leadership and insight in the policymaking process. We also count on your strong linkages with people in the region to help strengthen these relationships – in your own ways and on your own terms – for the benefit of the overall relationship.

Thank You.

Released on April 22, 2004

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