The Straight Path to Pros­per­ity

Southasia - - COMMENTS - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

This is clearly a time of great dy­namism across South Asia, with elec­tions and tran­si­tions un­fold­ing across the re­gion. These de­vel­op­ments of­fer many op­por­tu­ni­ties and cre­ate new im­per­a­tives for the fu­ture of US pol­icy. While the pros­per­ity agenda in South Asia is crit­i­cally im­por­tant, it is also im­por­tant to en­hance po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity in the re­gion. A big con­straint has al­ways been the bar­ri­ers that ex­ist be­tween the two ma­jor coun­tries of South Asia - In­dia and Pak­istan. It is cer­tainly en­cour­ag­ing to see that the demo­cratic polity in Pak­istan has changed from one po­lit­i­cal party to an­other through the demo­cratic vote. It is also en­cour­ag­ing to see the eco­nomic progress made by Pak­istan in re­cent months though the coun­try still continues to face se­ri­ous chal­lenges. In­dia also finds it­self in the eye of con­tin­ued vul­ner­a­bil­ity, the most im­por­tant be­ing the out­come of the on­go­ing gen­eral elec­tions. De­scribed as the long­est elec­tions in In­dia’s his­tory, the fi­nal out­come of the ex­er­cise will be ev­i­dent in the sec­ond week of May. The re­sults will then de­ter­mine which party or a set of par­ties takes charge in the coun­try and who will be the leader of In­dia that the world, in­clud­ing the U.S., will do busi­ness with.

This is also the year of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Afghanistan. Much of the coun­try’s fu­ture will de­pend on who gets into the driv­ing seat. The US stands a good chance to work with Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah. As op­posed to Hamid Karzai, he of­fers more op­por­tu­ni­ties to lead the coun­try to­wards an era of con­sol­i­da­tion and ex­plore those ar­eas of progress that had hereto­fore been ne­glected. The US also can­not ig­nore the se­cu­rity chal­lenges posed by the draw­down of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Ac­cord­ing to lat­est re­ports, the num­ber of U.S. troops to be left be­hind in the coun­try may drop well be­low 10,000 - the min­i­mum de­manded by the U.S. mil­i­tary - as the long­est war in Amer­i­can his­tory winds down. It has to be ac­cepted that while NATO and the US forces en­tered Afghanistan in 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 at­tacks, there is noth­ing that these forces have suc­ceeded in achiev­ing. In fact, if any­thing, the Tal­iban have demon­strated a clear resur­gence. If there was a de­sire on the part of the US to set its boots on the ground in Afghanistan, it suc­ceeded in do­ing so on the pre­text of 9/11. It man­aged to dig its heels in Kabul, to de­velop the Ba­gram air­base and to es­tab­lish var­i­ous lis­ten­ing posts to mon­i­tor Pak­istan, China, Rus­sia and the Cen­tral Asian States - but this is as far as US suc­cess went. The ‘resid­ual’ force that the US in­tends to leave be­hind now will en­able it to man these in­stal­la­tions and, of course, ‘train Afghan forces.’

The US is, nev­er­the­less, en­cour­aged that the coun­tries of the re­gion are now choos­ing poli­cies that pro­mote eco­nomic growth and so­cial de­vel­op­ment so that the mil­lions can be lifted out of the morass of poverty and look to­wards a more pros­per­ous, healthy and se­cure life. The fu­ture, both in the near and long term, of­fers a whole spec­trum of chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the U.S. to as­sist and guide the coun­tries of South Asia and help them join the main­stream if global de­vel­op­ment. The path is, as usual, twisted and me­an­der­ing but there is an enor­mous po­ten­tial for con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of re­la­tions be­tween the U.S. and South Asia.

More than two decades back, I was at the Pen­tagon in Wash­ing­ton D.C., at­tend­ing the In­ter­na­tional Vis­i­tor Pro­gram on U.S.-South Asia Re­la­tions. I was in a group that com­prised Mrs. Abha Dixit, Dr. Gopal Ji Malviya and Mr. M.N. Verma from In­dia and Mr. Rashid Ahmed Khan and my­self from Pak­istan. We were be­ing con­ducted to an­other area within the Pen­tagon by a smart and charm­ing young lady who was our fa­cil­i­ta­tor. Con­sid­er­ing the long, un­end­ing cor­ri­dors of the Pen­tagon build­ing, I asked her how long would it take for us to fol­low the straight path, which seemed quite cum­ber­some af­ter a heavy lunch. “Oh dear, there is noth­ing straight at the Pen­tagon,” I was very mat­ter-of-factly told. Since then, I have con­stantly found that the quip had for me many more con­no­ta­tions in the con­text of South Asia – and I still won­der how right the young lady was!

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