Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 09, 2007

Congressional hearing on the Middle East and South Asia

At a Congressional hearing of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Wednesday, Ambassador Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, addressed Congress regarding the current situation in the region with respect to a number of issues, including terrorism and non-proliferation; crime and illicit narcotics; U.S. foreign assistance programs, and the promotion of U.S. trade and exports.
The Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs currently deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. relations with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. However, at the regional overview the main focus was U.S. policy with regards to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Subcommittee Chairman Gary L. Ackerman opened the discussion by expressing his concern over the lack of progress in these three countries. Ackerman said that he has strong doubts that these countries are currently equipped to face all the threats and challenges of the region. There are numerous concerns, and we have seen the danger of these states failing, he said. He also noted that in the five years of strong U.S. commitment in Afghanistan our record has been mixed. Ackerman said there should be strong concern over record opium poppy growth in the country, as the profits often go to the Taliban. He believes this to be severely undermining our efforts at witnessing reconciliation and promoting prosperity and democratic progress. Ackerman mentioned that now is the time for Pakistan to step up, considering the $8 million they receive every month in support of counterterrorism activities. He said, they should not, as has been reported, act as a safe-heaven for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Boucher agreed that the fundamental U.S. goals in the region are crucial, since failure would be dangerous. He also stated the importance of assessing the whole region, and not simply Afghanistan. The core of U.S. efforts in the region should be to secure the benefit of good governance for all, he said, stressing the importance of judicial improvements. Boucher also believes Pakistan and India to be vital partners in the fight for transparent democracy in the region and is hoping to maintain long-term friendships with these countries. In response to Ackerman’s accusations that Pakistan is not living up to U.S. expectations with regards to counterterrorism activities, Boucher recognized the obstacles, but insisted, “It is the implications of the conditionality of these issues that prevents us from doing more.” Ackerman would not give a straight answer as to whether the administration should put more muscle behind our policy toward Pakistan.

Finally, Boucher touched upon the implications of the growing poppy problem. He maintained that while the U.S is currently engaged in an extensive strategy to promote a different and prosperous rural economy in Afghanistan, no one crop has been identified as an alternative to poppy.


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