South Asia at frontline of war on terror — Christina Rocca

US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca said on Wednesday (26) "even as we advance our efforts in the Middle East, South Asia remains at the frontline of the war on terror, and regional stability remains critical. We must remain actively and effectively engaged in this region where our most vital interest are at stake." Rocca in a prepared statement to the US senate committee on Foreign relations outlining US assistance to South Asia said: "Through a Norwegian-facilitated peace process, the Sri Lankan government elected in December 2001 moved rapidly towards peace negotiations with the separatist Tamil Tiger guerillas — designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997.

Five rounds of talks have followed the initial round that began in September 2002, and the talks have made significant progress, although complex issues remain that will require time and skilful diplomacy to resolve. Several U.S. agencies, including Treasury, Commerce, and DoD, sent assessment teams to Sri Lanka last year to examine how we could most effectively use our bilateral assistance and engagement in support of the peace process. As a result, we are providing demining support, and we plan to establish new programmes to strengthen Sri Lanka’s peacekeeping capability and reform its military institutions. Our economic assistance and development programmes will facilitate post-war reconstruction, economic recovery, and political and social reconciliation and reintegration."

She said that after sending several assessment teams to Sri Lanka last year, the US "is currently providing demining and economic assistance, as well as establishing programmes to strengthen Sri Lanka’s peace keeping capabilities and reformists military institutions.

"We must remain actively and effectiveIy engaged in this region where our most vital interests are at stake. U.S. support has contributed to substantial progress over the past year and a half. Eighteen months ago, we could not have foreseen that Afghanistan would convoke a representative Loya Jirga, select a transitional government to preside over reconstruction, and draft a constitution. Afghanistan must shortly begin preparations for national elections in June 2004. Pakistan’s effective support for operation Enduring Freedom has been equally welcome. Pakistan’s October 2002 elections re-established a civilian government, and we are providing assistance towards a full return to democracy there.

We have experienced the close cooperation of all the countries in the region in the war against terror, and were able to play a helpful role last spring and summer to defuse a dangerous crisis between India and Pakistan that could have led to a catastrophic conflict, and we are redoubling our efforts to reduce tensions in Kashmir. Regional stability has been served by Sri Lanka’s progress towards ending a 20-year civil conflict. However, we must assist Sri Lanka to achieve and consolidate peace, and Nepal to avoid resumption of a Maoist insurgency and to shore up its fragile democracy. With an eye to the future, we will continue to transform our relationship with India, a rising global power, and will help the moderate Muslim democracy of Bangladesh, which faces difficult political divisions and significant economic challenges, towards stability and economic growth."