Year in Review: U.S. Diplomacy in South and Central Asia

Posted by Robert O. Blake
January 15, 2012
Assistant Secretary Blake Greeted by Civil Society Reps in Sri Lanka

2011 was an eventful year for all of us working in South and Central Asia. I've had the opportunity to reflect on the year and wanted to single out a few highlights. Secretary Clinton's visit to India in July advanced our ongoing strategic dialogue and underscored the continued growth in the U.S.-India partnership. Similarly, her visit to Central Asia in October affirmed our strong commitment to seeing a more prosperous and secure region that helps to bolster the stability of Afghanistan. We witnessed the first ever peaceful democratic transition of power in Central Asia when President Otunbayeva -- a recipient of our Women of Courage award -- stepped down as leader of Kyrgyzstan and Almazbek Atambayev was elected President.

The Secretary's visit to India not only reflected on a decade of closer relations with India, but also the promise of a bright future and the limitless opportunities available for mutual prosperity. We are cooperating to an unprecedented degree on education, science and technology, economics and trade, health, agriculture, countering terrorism, and providing for regional and global security for the benefit of the citizens of both our countries and of the world. The visit included a major speech on our shared vision for the region. I would encourage you to read the speech here.

The U.S.-India Higher Education Summit followed the Secretary's visit and was a major outcome of our strategic dialogue. The event, held at Georgetown University in October, was jointly chaired by Secretary Clinton and Indian Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal and attended by more than 300 higher education, private sector, and government leaders from both countries. Reflecting on the strong history of exchanges between India and the United States, Secretary Clinton said, "Last year, we welcomed over 100,000 students from India to pursue college or graduate level study here. But we think the opportunities for collaboration are even greater. And particularly, we want to see more American students enrolling for academic credit at Indian institutions."

Last year was also a year of positive progress throughout the rest of South Asia. In November, we welcomed the news that the Nepal peace process took a positive turn. Newly-elected Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and other key political leaders agreed on a plan to bring the long-stalled peace process -- accords for which were signed in 2006 -- to a close. We are optimistic the parties will remain on track to ultimately reach consensus on the few remaining details. Our new Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, is continuing our ongoing work to foster a partnership based on mutual interest in a wide range of priorities including food security, climate change, global health, counterterrorism, and democracy promotion.

In August, I traveled to Sri Lanka and visited the northern city of Jaffna to see first-hand the former conflict zone and observe the country's progress as it transitions from civil war to peace and reconciliation. The United States has welcomed the release of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission's report and we continue to encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to work constructively with the international community as it seeks to implement the report's recommendations this year.

Afghanistan's neighbors have embraced the Secretary's call to strengthen regional economic and transit connections -- to build a "New Silk Road" and open up new sources of raw material, energy, and agricultural products for every nation in the region. New agreements on the Northern Distribution Network with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan helped to complete routes and further facilitate trade between Central Asia and Afghanistan. Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic welcomed Afghanistan into their Cross-Border Transport Accord, laying the foundation for increased trade and transit among them. An Indian consortium's successful bid on the Hajigak iron-ore deposit, and the deepening thaw in Indo-Pak economic relations were also significant steps towards realizing a new economic vision for the region.

As the Secretary has emphasized, investments in women and youth yield multiple dividends. Throughout the entire region, we made a concerted effort to reach out to these audiences through workshops, conferences, and social media. Together with President Otunbayeva, the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues and our embassies, we organized a Central Asia and Afghanistan Women's Economic Symposium held in Bishkek in July. The event brought nearly 200 policy makers, enterprise owners, educators, and civil society leaders together with corporate sponsors and donors to share strategies for economic success. The resulting network of women leaders in government, business, and civil society is now working within and across borders to strengthen women's entrepreneurship and trade.

During her trip to Central Asia, the Secretary gave a speech focused on women, youth, and civil society that highlighted both the progress made, as well as the challenges that remain. One example of the youth outreach in which we are engaged took place in Sri Lanka, where our embassy and a local NGO brought 80 youth leaders together from throughout South Asia to focus on civic responsibility, social media, environmental awareness, and community development. Group project presentations demonstrated participants' commitment to work together across borders to implement sustainable initiatives in these areas.

In 2011, we also saw strengthened efforts to combat trafficking in persons in the region. India achieved a landmark conviction of five years' imprisonment and a fine against three bonded labor perpetrators, Bangladesh promulgated a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, and Tajikistan made great strides in combating the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest.

We also began a series of cooperative environment, science and technology projects across the region. With USAID, we supported Central Asian, South Asian, and South American scientists in a joint expedition to the Himalayan glaciers in Nepal to better understand the dynamics of glacier melt and share best practices from their respective regions. In Maldives, we are supporting coral reef conservation efforts, and in Central Asia we launched an entrepreneurship innovation program which will bring eight winners to Silicon Valley.

As the year drew to a close, the United States was pleased to recognize Kyrgyzstan's peaceful democratic election and transfer of power, the first of its kind in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan's vibrant civil society actively participated, promoted transparency, and encouraged citizens to report on irregularities during the election.

I am excited to see what 2012 holds in store and look forward to keeping you informed about our diplomacy in South and Central Asia. You can follow our efforts in the South and Central Asia by signing up for email updates, following us on Facebook, Twitter, and of course our regular blog entries on DipNote. Thank you!

Comments

Comments

Ashim C.
|
India
January 16, 2012

Ashim C. in India writes:

As a person, who followed the progress of Indo-US relations quite closely, I don't think both sides reached out to each other as much as they could have. Important trade agreements were signed for defense purchases and transfer of technologies and other areas of cooperation but general impression that has been created is that US is more interested defense sales to India than accomodating India's strategic concerns and interests in trade and commerce.

When one compares the progress in relations with India during the President George Bush's times and under President Obama, one finds what has really happened is President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Geithner have carried forward in a limited manner what President Bush had accomplished in terms of building a base for a strong relation and even more importantly mood in India for a strong and comprehensive relations.

At a time when US is wanting to boost it's exports of goods, services and technologies in order to create jobs in USA on the one hand and trying to consolidate the gains in it's war against taliban in Afpak region and honour it's commitment to withdraw from Afghanistan, US could have shed it's ambivalence on strategic issue of Kashmir and India's territorial issues with China by suo moto offering to come to India's help in event of India's territorial sovreignty is tickled by anyone, offered and materialised transfer of clean technology in infrastructure building, mass housing, water resource management, food processing,clean power generation, energy security etc. which would have not only increased the visibility of benefits of Indo-US cooperation at very grass root level but also helped strengthening of certain economic sectors in USA and created more value and jobs than possibly USA has outsourced from India. One's sense is this is due to lack of sufficient will at the top. Policy makers must realise India is now governed by a coalition, which has many limitations. This is evident in opposition to nuclear power projects, FDI in retail by opposition parties. There is clearly a need to understand if India's multi party system which devides India's secular politics and if that division is thwarting changes or not. This is off course India's internal matter but it is only natural that in a globalised world all international players must take a view of political situation in India and try to influence political processes without talking about these things openly in case of India.

Interested B.
|
Maldives
February 11, 2012

I.B. in the Maldives writes:

I am VERY disappointed that you have chosen to recognize Vice President Dr. Waheed's installation as president of the Maldives after democratically elected President Nasheer was forced to resign under duress and threat of civil war. Instead, you should be criticizing this blatant coup, and questioning the legitimacy of this process. Those who support this regime include the former dictator Gayoom and his 'starfire' thugs, and the fundamentalist invaders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia who have infiltrated and perverted the peaceful form of Islam practiced by Maldivians for 800 years. Witness the destruction of pre-Islamic artifacts at the National Museum by their converts, and their demand that sharia law be enforced by the courts. Perhaps Undersecretary Roberts will realize that error after his visit here.

.

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