Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Insurgencies and political crises in South Asia

Two representatives of the U.S. Department of State, former Ambassador Steven Mann and John A. Gastright, Jr., described the political crises and U.S. role in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal on Wednesday before a House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

A central concern was the policy of ousting terrorists and its effectiveness in northern Pakistan tribal areas.

“Pakistan is an indispensable ally in the global war on terror; a stable, prosperous and democratic Pakistan is important for the stability of the entire region,” Gastright said.

The government of Pakistan “recently increased pressure on extremists,” increasing troops and re-arming them, Gastright said. But Gastright still acknowledged that “extremists have developed a safe haven in tribal areas… they have found the ability to operate, but they’re not flourishing.”

“They [in the government of Pakistan] are taking actions [to eliminate extremists],” Gastright said. “Are they effective?” asked Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.). “They are having effects,” Gastright said.

“Do they want to be effective?” asked Ackerman.

“They need to be effective,” Gastright said.

“Should the U.S. go to Pakistan?” asked Representative Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). “The tribal area is about the size of New Jersey, with 3.5 million people,” Gastright said. “The government of Pakistan wants to address this, and the U.S. would have no more information about these people than Pakistan has. Pakistan’s long-term strategy is not just killing extremists, but producing an environment that’s inhospitable to extremists.”

Regarding Nepal and Sri Lanka, “both countries hold great promise, but struggle with internal insurgencies,” Mann said.

Nepal is in a “decisive phase”—the run-up to constituent elections, scheduled to take place November 22, Mann said. The U.S. should “promote inclusion” and ensure that Maoists—an “indigenous movement” that arose violently in the mid 1990s and have recently entered the political process as members of Parliament—“remain peaceful.”

In Sri Lanka, Mann said the decades-long conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, “has taken a toll” on the country and its people. The Tamil Tigers are “one of the most well-funded insurgency groups,” garnering $200 to $300 million per year from Tamil businesses and families abroad, mostly in southern India, Mann said.

“Tigers have little interest in a peaceful settlement—they insist that the government abide by the 2002 cease fire agreement, requiring the government to give up the east—which is not likely,” Mann said. The U.S. has tried to convey that negotiations are needed, that there is “no lasting military solution.”

In Bangladesh, a caretaker government—that Transparency International has listed as the most corrupt government in the world for a number of years—has altered its timeline, moving elections from early 2007 to late 2008. “What is our government doing to make sure elections do take place?” said Representative Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

“They have taken steps to combat corruption, and we expect them to adhere to the roadmap they outlined toward elections,” Gastright said.


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