U.S. Must Make South Asia a High Foreign Policy Priority or Face Crises in the Region That Will Pose Major Threats to U.S. National Security

October 29, 2003

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October 30, 2003 - After the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the massing of a million men on the borders of nuclear-armed India and Pakistan in 2001, the critical importance of South Asia to global and U.S. national security is absolutely clear. Securing a moderate Muslim state in Pakistan, consolidating and deepening increasingly important U.S.-India ties, actively encouraging peaceful relations between India and Pakistan, and ensuring an Afghanistan where terrorists can never again find shelter must be priority foreign policy goals for the United States.

To capitalize on the opportunities and to address the dangers that these countries present for U.S. interests, a Chairmen’s Report of the Independent Task Force on India and South Asia co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society calls on Congress and the Bush administration to adjust U.S. policy toward the region and give it sustained, high-level attention.

The Task Force was co-chaired by Frank G. Wisner, former U.S. ambassador to India, Nicholas Platt, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and current president of the Asia Society, and Marshall M. Bouton, President of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations; it was co-directed by Dennis Kux, Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Mahnaz Ispahani, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Among the key findings and recommendations:

  • Pakistan presents one of the most complex and difficult challenges facing U.S. diplomacy anywhere in the world today. Its political instability, entrenched Islamist extremism, economic and social weaknesses, and dangerous confrontation with India have cast dark shadows over the nuclear-armed nation. Even though Pakistan offers valuable help in rooting out al-Qaeda remnants, it has failed to prevent Islamist terrorists from using its territory as a base for armed attacks on Kashmir and Afghanistan. The United States has a major stake in a stable Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbors and should be prepared to provide substantial assistance toward this end. The extent of U.S. assistance, however, should be calibrated with Islamabad’s own performance and conduct.
    • Congress should authorize the Bush administration proposal for $3 billion in economic and security assistance for the five years starting with FY 2005. This package should, however, be revised so that it includes more economic and less security aid. Instead of the 50-50 split that the Bush administration wants, two thirds of U.S. aid should go for economic and social programs and only one-third for security assistance.
    • Assistance above a baseline level ($300 million annually over five years for a total of $1.5 billion) should be conditioned on Pakistan’s progress in implementing economic and political reforms, barring the use of its territory to sustain insurgencies against its neighbors, and fulfilling nonproliferation responsibilities.
    • The United States should also ease restrictions on Pakistani textile imports into the United States and avoid new barriers after the multifiber agreement comes into effect in 2005.
  • India, with its democratic political system and decade of steady economic advance, holds out the prospect for long-term political and security ties and substantially expanded trade and economic relations with the United States. The medium term policy challenge for the United States and India is to complete the transition from past estrangement through engagement on to genuine partnership.
    • The two countries should intensify efforts to broaden and deepen bilateral political, security, intelligence and law enforcement cooperation.
    • Trade policy dialogue between the United States and India needs to be increased, and the two countries should seek to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement dealing with services.
    • The United States should ease restrictions on exports of dual-use products (civilian and military use) and on civilian space satellite cooperation.
  • Given the dangers inherent in festering India-Pakistan rivalry, the United States should become more active in trying to help the two nuclear-armed enemies manage their differences. Their hostility, and its most neuralgic point, the dispute over Kashmir, remains the gravest threat to regional peace and U.S. interests. India’s most recent proposals to Pakistan, although limited, and the overtures to the Hurriyat group are encouraging moves. In the short-term, the goal for U.S. diplomacy should be to help start a bilateral process of India-Pakistan negotiations. A plausible place to begin would be working out a comprehensive cease-fire along the Kashmir Line of Control (LOC), the most likely flashpoint of wider conflict.
    • Pakistan should be pressed more vigorously to make good on President Musharraf’s pledge to stop infiltration across the LOC.
    • India should be urged to reduce the heavy weight of its security forces upon Kashmiris, reach an accord with the state government that better addresses the aspirations of Kashmiris, and step up support for economic development.
  • Given the nuclear proliferation risks in South Asia, the executive branch should be conducting a searching review to examine possible ways to find a place for a nuclear India and Pakistan within the global nonproliferation framework. In the meanwhile, it should be working to ensure tighter controls against leakage of sensitive nuclear technology and material.
    • Establishing nuclear risk reduction centers and agreement on ways to reduce misunderstanding regarding missile movements and flight tests would be of particular importance.
  • In Afghanistan, reconstruction has stalled partly because of inadequate resources, but mainly because of deteriorating security outside Kabul, especially in the Pashtun areas bordering on Pakistan. The Task Force recommends that much more be done to improve security and to strengthen the capabilities of the central government. In particular, the United States should be actively supporting:
    • accelerated training for the new Afghan National Army and police force;
    • genuine implementation of reforms to make the Ministry of Defense more truly national;
    • the phased program of demilitarization and demobilization of warlord militias that is getting under way; and
    • the assumption of security responsibilities outside Kabul by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), now under NATO leadership.

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.

The Asia Society is America’s leading institution dedicated to fostering understanding of Asia and communication between Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. A national nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, the Society provides a forum for building awareness of the more than thirty countries broadly defined as the Asia-Pacific region.


Contact: Lisa Shields, Vice President, Communications, (212) 434-9888

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