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Mr. Chairman and members of the committee: I am pleased to be here today to testify on recent developments in and U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. While much of the attention devoted to South Asia is rightly focused on India and Pakistan, significant events are taking place in the other countries of the region. I am grateful for the recognition of this reality by you and the committee, as demonstrated by your request for today's hearing.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are sometimes labeled the "smaller" nations of South Asia, but this is very much a relative comparison. Like their more powerful neighbors, India and Pakistan, they confront significant problems affecting large numbers of people. To provide some perspective, I would note that the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy is affecting more people in Bangladesh and Nepal than in all of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe combined, where a similar process began at about the same time.
Strengthening democracy is among the Administration's highest regional priorities in South Asia, and is of particular importance in all but one of the countries we will be discussing today--Afghanistan. While democratic institutions are being tested in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, we are optimistic that these institutions will prevail. We actively support the democratic process throughout the region, although our approach varies from country to country to suit the circumstances.
Another area of importance to us in South Asian countries is economic growth and development resulting, in large part, from liberalization of trade and investment policies. Closely connected to this is our strong interest in generating new opportunities for American business. As in India and Pakistan, significant economic policy changes are underway in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. There has not yet been an explosion of American commercial involvement with those countries, as there has been in India. However, American participation has grown, particularly in Sri Lanka. The Department of State and our embassies in South Asian capitals are supporting American businesses pursuing new opportunities in those countries.
While not caught up in the Indo-Pakistani dispute to any significant degree, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka all must pay close attention to relations with India. India, given its sheer size and extensive human and other resources, has a special obligation to ensure that its smaller neighbors feel they are treated fairly. Water allocation, power generation, and refugee flows are among the significant issues between them and their large neighbor which need to be resolved sooner rather than later.
The three states recognize the importance of regional cooperation and are strong supporters of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. The United States also would like to see SAARC grow in stature and effectiveness. We believe the organization could better accomplish this by taking on greater responsibilities at the working level.
I now wish to discuss each of these four countries individually.
Mr. Chairman, Afghanistan is the sad exception to a tale of political and economic progress in South Asia. Our primary goal there is a simple one--to help promote peace and security in a country torn by war for almost 15 years. There are other important issues in Afghanistan, including reconstruction of the economy …