New York, December 10, 2012— A just-released Asia Society report titled The United States and South Asia after Afghanistan, finds that there is a unique opportunity in 2013 for the Obama administration to forge a more strategic, integrated, and successful policy toward South Asia during its second term. The report offers new ideas on how to integrate competing U.S. interests in South Asia, encourage stronger interagency collaboration across the East Asia-South Asia divide, and expand expertise on South Asia within the U.S. government.
Author Alexander Evans, a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at Asia Society, argues that the United States will best position itself for success after 2014 by taking a “fresh approach” to South Asia that considers each country on its own merits and avoids hyphenated “Indo-Pak,” “Af-Pak,” or “China-India” policies; thinks regionally about economic, security, and political issues; connects South Asia to an overall Asia strategy; and integrates diplomatic, defense, and development policy agendas.
The report makes seven recommendations for U.S. policy makers:
1. Improve the capacity for U.S. strategy toward South Asia. An enhanced approach to regional strategy that incorporates South and East Asia is needed. It recommends strengthening the capacity for strategic policy in the regional bureau at the State Department.
2. Better connect East Asia and South Asia policy. The United States should do this both through cross-postings and by establishing a mechanism for cross-bureau Asia policy.Career incentives should be introduced to encourage diplomats to serve in China and India or Pakistan, and progress should be made on the positive work already underway that sees the assistant secretary for South and Central Asia lead talks in Beijing and the assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific lead talks in New Delhi.
3. Continue to bet on India, while managing expectations. India requires sustained high-level attention, but also a structured U.S. approach to the Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship. This approach needs to accurately judge how much U.S. and Indian interests will converge and how best to manage the tone of political and diplomatic engagement.
4. Develop a realistic, medium-term Pakistan strategy. In the short term, Washington needs to continue to work with Islamabad on counterterrorism and the drawdown in Afghanistan. In the medium to longer term, the United States needs to establish an approach to Pakistan that delivers on vital U.S. interests.
5. Better integrate counterterrorism and regional policy through cross-posting officials between the two areas. The more that agencies leading on counterterrorism can draw on regional expertise—not least to think through the consequences of different actions—the better integrated foreign and security policy can be.
6. Establish a formal “South Asia cadre” of Foreign Service officers. The historic challenge has not been a lack of expertise, but rather that South Asia work has not been highly valued within the Foreign Service. Establishing a formal South Asia cadre in the Foreign Service in which officers can formally declare a career interest in the region would provide the South Asia policy leads in the State Department with a defined community of officers.
7. Create a South Asia–specific Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF). Like regular PMFs, these positions should allow the officer to rotate through a series of details—six months in the State Department, six months in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, and so on. Unlike regular PMFs, who can serve on a range of issues, this position should be limited to South Asia policy roles across the interagency.
The United States and South Asia after Afghanistanis based on more than 90 interviews with current and former senior U.S. and foreign officials responsible for diplomacy, development, and defense policy in South Asia, and was written in consultation with an advisory groupof leading American and Asian scholars and practitioners.
About Asia Society
Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia. The Society seeks to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of arts and culture, policy and business, and education.
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