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New Hopes for Stability in South Asia

Interviewee: Teresita C. Schaffer, Director, South Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
May 18, 2009

Recent developments in South Asia bring hope for some stability to a region where growing militancy in Pakistan has captured world attention. India's general elections (BBC) that led to a decisive victory for the Congress-led alliance of the incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is "good news" for India and its neighbors says Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. Schaffer notes that not only does the coalition command a majority in parliament but the Congress Party alone commands over 200 votes--or about 75 percent of the votes needed to maintain that majority--"and that means they have a good chance of lasting out their five-year term without too much drama." Schaffer, who is also a former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, sees an opportunity for the region in the Sri Lankan government's claims that it has successfully defeated the militant outfit Tamil Tigers. If true this could bring an end to nearly three-decades of civil war, and serve as "an opportunity to start the serious business of developing a political system with which all of Sri Lanka's different ethnic groups are prepared to live." With the potential end of the war in Sri Lanka, Schaffer also sees India playing a larger role, especially in relief operations for the ethnic Tamil population.

However, on the issue of Pakistan, Schaffer says the Indian government is going to expect Islamabad to take some concrete steps, especially toward closing down militant outfits that target India, before the two countries can resume the peace process. She recommends the Obama administration continue to keep India closely informed on its policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but thinks the regional approach toward Afghanistan's stability that Washington has been pushing will be difficult given Pakistan's suspicions of Indian actions in Afghanistan.

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