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South Asia and the United States: An Evolving Partnership
Address before the Asia Society on April 29, 1987. Ambassador Armacost is Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
It is a particular pleasure to address the Asia Society of Washington tonight. I have had a long and happy association with this organization, for the most part in connection with previous duties in East Asia. This is a welcome and timely opportunity to share with you some thoughts on our relationship with South Asia--that quarter of the world that lies between Iran on the west and Burma on the east.
One measure of the growing importance of South Asia to the United States is the time and attention which senior Administration officials--myself included--devote to the policy challenges and opportunities in this important group of countries. By that standard-- indeed, by any standard--the region is very important, indeed.
U.S. Interest in South Asia
What happens in South Asia is a matter of consequence to Americans. Our stake in the subcontinent was first expressed in our support for the independence of South Asia from British rule. We saw that states free from outside domination would be the best guarantors of regional security. We appreciated the size and diversity of the populations of the region and its potential for rapid and equitable economic growth. We especially recognized the democratic aspirations and achievements of the peoples of South Asia, the vitality of their intellectual and cultural traditions, and--more recently--the key roles these countries have come to play in international and Third World fora and their significance in East-West and North-South relationships.
This interest has been articulated by every American Administration since World War II. Yet the scope of our involvement, the relative emphasis given to security versus economic concerns, and the priority accorded to particular countries within the region have varied with changes in international circumstances and in the rhythm of American politics. Continuity has not always been our strongest suit as we have sought to balance our regional interests in South and Southwest Asia with our global concerns about the expansion of Soviet power.
Some Administrations have pursued close ties with Pakistan, to the detriment of relations with India; others have sought to augment our ties with India at the expense of relations with Pakistan. The Reagan Administration has attempted to forge closer relations simultaneously with both nations. We recognize, of course, the importance of the other countries of the region, and we have also sought to develop further our bilateral ties with them.
Our goals in the area are to:
Restore Afghanistan's independence;
Avert a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent;
Encourage a reduction of tensions between Pakistan and India;
Stem the drug trade and forge closer international cooperation against terrorism;
Preserve national integrity in the face of separatist demands; and
Support moves toward democracy and regional and economic cooperation, including the impressive strides made by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Let me comment briefly on recent developments in some of these areas, and then outline for you the policy principles that mark the Administration's approach to each.
Afghanistan. The essentials of the Afghan conflict have not changed in recent months. The Soviets have been unable to translate their massive military involvement into stable political arrangements in Kabul. Resistance to the Soviet presence and its client government continues to grow; and international support for the resistance has never been stronger.
While the Soviets have not taken decisive actions to end their military involvement in Afghanistan, there have, nonetheless, been some significant developments in recent months, some of which enhance the possibilities for a political settlement.
While the tempo of military action in Afghanistan remains very high, Soviet efforts to shift the burden of combat to Afghan units have largely foundered on the inefficiency and uncertain loyalty of the Afghan military.
Despite wishful claims to the contrary, attempts to broaden the political base of the Najibullah regime, to coopt or coerce the mujahidin into giving up their struggle, and to disrupt the infrastructure of the resistance have failed.
The Soviets have, more and more emphatically, declared their intention to withdraw from Afghanistan. They claim that the Soviet Army has completed its mission there and that a schedule for its withdrawal has been set. Yet the minor withdrawals implemented to date have been of no military consequence, and the cease-fire proposed by Kabul last …