U.S. Strat­egy for South Asia

The res­o­lu­tion of the Afghan con­flict holds the key to the de­vel­op­ment of South Asia. It all de­pends on how the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion pur­sues its strate­gic in­ter­ests in the fight against terrorism.

Southasia - - Cover Story - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

Be­fore 9/11, the fo­cus of United States’ for­eign aid and in­vest­ment in South Asia was aimed at pro­mot­ing the cause of democ­racy, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, hu­man rights and bet­ter­ment of so­ci­eties. For a re­gion hav­ing over a bil­lion peo­ple, the role of the U.S. eco­nomic pro­gram un­til re­cently, was very pos­i­tive and pro­duc­tive. It not only opened new mar­kets for U.S. in­vestors but also pro­vided lo­cal busi­ness­men ac­cess to free world con­sumers. This mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial busi­ness re­la­tion­ship and gen­er­ous for­eign as­sis­tance helped most South Asian coun­tries to counter poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and achieve im­prove­ments in all ar­eas of gov­er­nance. Un­for­tu­nately, post 9/11,the sce­nario changed ev­ery­thing for the worse. Af­ter the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dec­la­ra­tion of war on terrorism, the for­eign aid strat­egy was re­struc­tured “to serve the goal of trans­for­ma­tional de­vel­op­ment, which places greater em­pha­sis on U.S. se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.”

Un­der the new strat­egy, as­sis­tance pro­grams were di­verted largely to “front line” states . For these coun­tries, the U.S. di­rected not only in­creased se­cu­rity and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance but also de­vel­op­ment aid for counter-terrorism ef­forts, in­clud­ing pro­grams aimed at mit­i­gat­ing con­di­tions that could make rad­i­cal ide­olo­gies and re­li­gious ex­trem­ism at­trac­tive, such as cy­cles of vi­o­lence, poverty, lim­ited ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­ef­fec­tive or un­ac­count­able gov­er­nance.

The new Strate­gic Frame­work for U.S. For­eign As­sis­tance di­vides aid pro­gram­ming among five ob­jec­tives: peace and se­cu­rity; gov­ern­ing justly and demo­crat­i­cally; in­vest­ing in peo­ple; eco­nomic growth; and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance. The Millennium Chal­lenge Ac­count (MCA), es­tab­lished in 2004, pro­motes these ob­jec­tives by re­ward­ing coun­tries that demon­strate good gov­er­nance, in­vest­ment in health and ed­u­ca­tion and sound eco­nomic poli­cies.

The war on terrorism has re­ori­ented for­eign as­sis­tance pri­or­i­ties in Asia and ac­cel­er­ated a trend to­wards in­creased aid to the re­gion that be­gan in 2000. Through­out the 1990s, U.S. as­sis­tance to Asia fell due to ebbing of Cold War se­cu­rity con­cerns, nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion sanc­tions, and fa­vor­able eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal trends. In the wake of the war on terrorism, Pak­istan, In­dia, the Philip­pines and In­done­sia be­came the foci of the Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s counter-terrorism ef­forts in South and South­east Asia, due to their strate­gic im­por­tance, large Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions, and in­sur­gency move­ments with links to ter­ror­ist groups. These coun­tries have re­ceived the bulk of the in­creases in U.S. for­eign aid (non-food) to Asia (ex­clud­ing Afghanistan), al­though fund­ing for aid pro­grams in In­dia and the Philip­pines reached a peak in 2006 and fell in 2007 and 2008. Be­gin­ning in 2004, both In­done­sia and the Philip­pines re­ceived new fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams to pro­mote di­ver­sity, non-vi­o­lent res­o­lu­tion of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal con­flict (In­done­sia), and liveli­hood skills among Mus­lims re­sid­ing in im­pov­er­ished and con­flict-rid­den ar­eas (south­ern Philip­pines).

In re­cent years, the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion car­ried for­ward many Bush-ini­ti­ated for­eign aid ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing USAID’s De­vel­op­ment Lead­er­ship Ini­tia­tive (DLI), the Millennium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion and ro­bust as­sis­tance to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pak­istan. The Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion also largely con­tin­ued Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­vest­ments in global health and HIV/AIDS treat­ment. In the FY2011 bud­get, the Ad­min­is­tra­tion fur­ther de­fined its in­ter­na­tional pri­or­i­ties, with em­pha­sis on build­ing State Depart­ment and USAID ca­pac­ity, sup­port­ing mul­ti­lat­eral food se­cu­rity and global cli­mate change ini­tia­tives. Still, Obama’s main fund­ing re­quest for FY2011 con­tains as­sis­tance to coun­tries of strate­gic in­ter­est in the fight against terrorism. The al­lo­ca­tion in­cludes $12.22 bil­lion, or 34% of the to­tal bi­lat­eral aid re­quest for “front-line” states. For Afghanistan, $3.92 bil­lion is re­quested for FY2011, pri­mar­ily to in­crease U.S. civil­ian re­sources to bal­ance the re­cent troop surge. For Pak­istan, $3.05 bil­lion is re­quested pri­mar­ily to build Pak­istan Gov­ern­ment’s ca­pac­ity and sup­port in­fra­struc­ture and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects that pro­vide tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to com­mu­ni­ties

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