United States Policy in South Asia

Article excerpt

[The following are excerpts of the remarks to the Asia Society, presented in Washington, D.C., November 27, 2006.]

I wish to talk about topics that are central to the Society's mission, and an area of the world that is close to your heart South Asia. South Asia is now a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. For the first time in decades the United States views this region as increasingly vital to our core foreign policy interests. We have better strategic relations with the major powers of the region than we have ever had before. The United States has taken important decisions in the past few years that recognize the strategic importance of this region, by:

* Seeking as one of our most important global priorities a new, closer partnership with India

* Maintaining strong relations with Pakistan and broadening them beyond counterterrorism

* Mounting a long-term effort to stabilize Afghanistan and deliver the benefits of stability and democracy to the people

* Engaging positively and permanently with the region from Kazakhstan to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

The region will be at the forefront of our foreign policy thinking for decades to come. The U.S. is turning increasingly to the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia as regions where we face the greatest challenges and also where we can pursue the greatest opportunities.

* It is in South Asia where our future success in the struggle against global terrorism will likely be decided in Afghanistan and Pakistan

* It is in South Asia where our commercial, scientific, technological, and political-military interests argue for a great advance in relations with India

* It is in South Asia where, increasingly, the U.S. is called upon to be a key intermediary in stopping the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka

* In encouraging the people and leaders of Bangladesh to resist violent extremists and Islamists

* In helping to arrange in Nepal a true and sustained transition to democracy

United States and India Bilateral Relationship

There is reason to be optimistic about the future of Afghanistan, particularly if we remember the situation of the country just five years ago. In 2001, Afghanistan was the 5th poorest country in the world. Al Qaeda was a state within a state. Today, although it is not yet prosperous, Afghanistan is taking steps to enter the World Trade Organization; it has averaged annual growth rates around 9 percent since 2003; and it is actively engaged in trade.

Economic development is on the rise the World Bank estimates Afghanistan's gross domestic product to be $7.2 billion in 2006, up from $4.7 billion in 2003. Five years ago, the Afghan government was just learning to function. Today, President Karzai leads a stable national government for the first time in that country's history. The government has overseen successful Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The country had established a national government in Kabul, President Karzai and his colleagues are working on the most important task of extending the authority of government to the rest of the country. The United States had made a long-term commitment to assisting Afghanistan to become a stable, prosperous, and democratic country. The United States remains the largest provider of foreign aid to Afghanistan, with $12.5 billion in aid so far, and we have focused our efforts on three main areas:

* Security

* Reconstruction and economic development

* Governance

Working with our international partners, there are approximately 31,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan, including almost 20,000 from the United States. In conjunction with the British and Germans, we are also working to increase the ability of the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security. …