it is the time to
redefine US foreign policy for the South Asia.
By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Mar 27 - Apr02, 2000
The purpose of the visit of the US President, Bill Clinton, to
Bangladesh, India and Pakistan is to strengthen American bonds with a region that is
growing in importance with each passing year. This visit offers the prospect of a new
chapter in relations among the countries also. Although the chapter may begin with a visit
from the White House, it will be written by the people of these countries.
With the beginning of the new century, the priorities of US foreign
policy include, building a healthy and growing world economy, halting the spread of
weapons of mass destruction, supporting democracy and working with other nations to combat
international terrorism, pollution, drug trafficking and diseases. The US cannot succeed
in meeting these priorities without close cooperation from South Asia. The President's
trip is an attempt to make progress and forge ties that can benefit each country for many
years to come. There is also an economic dimension to this visit.
The President's visit to South Asia is aimed at promoting US interests
in an area where a fifth of the world's population live, security risks are high, economic
opportunities abound, and there is a potential for wide-ranging cooperation in global
issues. As befits the diversity of the region, in Bangladesh, it is the time to reaffirm
and advance relationship, in India to begin a new chapter in relations and in Pakistan to
improve upon the ongoing friendship. One topic the President discussed with both India and
Pakistan is the relationship between these two countries. The aim is to avoid the threat
of conflict in South Asia, fighting terrorism, prevent nuclear proliferation and creating
an environment of regional peace and security.
The US support for the independence, security and development of the
countries of South Asia goes back to their earliest days. South Asia, in fact, was the
seedbed where much of what was to become both the practice and philosophy of foreign
assistance was evolved. Despite their poverty, the South Asian countries have made major
contribution to their own investment from their own resources. But their urgent needs
initially for food, then for capital, technology, and also weapons to ensure their
security required extensive input of resources from abroad. The US has been a major
source of aid, concessional financing and foreign direct investment for the region.
The long-standing American relationship with Pakistan involves a number
of special considerations. The US policy supports the goal of a securely independent and
prosperous Pakistan. A close security relationship with the country has been the corner
stone of US policy in South Asia for decades. Beginning with the Eisenhower
Administration, Washington has regarded Pakistan with Iran, as an essential obstacle to
Soviet expansion toward Indian Ocean and the oil fields on Persian Gulf. Following Iranian
revolution and invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan acquired an even greater
importance as a component of US geopolitical strategy throughout the region. Today, more
than ever, there is a need to understand the basis of this relationship and further
consolidate the mutual trust.
Some times back Robert Peck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the
Bureau of Near East and South Asian Affairs said that continuation of US aid programme to
Pakistan was essential to "accomplishment of our non-proliferation goals as it is to
the pursuit of our regional policy." Peck emphasized that any action which would cut
off, curtail or cast doubt on the continuation of US assistance to Pakistan would be
counter productive, "because it would grievously undercut the influence over
Pakistan's nuclear decision making, whatever influence we have over the thrust and
direction of nuclear activities, derives from our strong security links."
At the same time there was resistance within the US policy makers on
such kind of preference. During the Cold War, the US backed Pakistan as a hedge against
India, which maintained close ties with Moscow. "Since the end of the Cold War,
Pakistan is no longer a particularly important part of the world," said John Pike of
the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based think tank that follows national
The last three decades of Pakistan-US relationship have been marked by
conflicts, Pakistan has often felt abandoned. Nevertheless, the two countries have
maintained, over the years, a delicate partnership that often has been beneficial for
both. The sanctions imposed after Pakistan conducted nuclear tests have further damaged an
already fragile relationship between the two countries. With India and Pakistan attaining
the nuclear capabilities and mounting conflict over Kashmir, it is the time to redefine US
foreign policy for the South Asia.