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Cover Story

it is the time to redefine US foreign policy for the South Asia.

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 security issues.

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.