Apr 26 2011
Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) says his latest visit to South Asia brought into clear focus the importance of helping India and Pakistan work together.
“The big opportunity here to help the whole region is to encourage as much as we can the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan,” said Carper. “It would be a great boon for those countries, for Afghanistan, and quite frankly, for us.”
Carper spent a week in the region, visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan for the third time in two years and India for the first time before returning home Monday. He met with a variety of state officials and business leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzi, India’s Minister of State Jairam Ramesh and Pakistan’s Special Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Afghanistan, Haroon Shaukat.
Delaware’s senior senator said the U.S. is encouraging the high level talks between India and Pakistan that started earlier this year and continue with the first trade talks between the two countries in two years scheduled this week in Islamabad. Among other benefits, Carper says normal relations between India and Pakistan would allow the Pakistani military to move troops away from its border with India and instead focus on insurgents along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
“That would take a lot of pressure off our troops and the Afghan [troops] in Afghanistan,” said Carper.
Carper says progress in Afghanistan remains “two steps forward, one step back.” He says on the positive side, the U.S. military “surge” has limited the Taliban’s ability to operate in the country, especially in the southern regions. He also pointed to progress in a “civilian surge” to move Afghanistan away from an economy based on growing poppy used in the drug trade to one based on other agricultural goods. Carper also sees potential to build an economy based on mineral mining, which he says estimates indicate could be worth over a trillion dollars to Afghanistan. “It would make them the Saudi Arabia of the mineral mining industry.”
Carper concedes corruption in the Afghan government remains a problem and Taliban military activity is likely to increase again when spring arrives there and the poppy harvest ends. But Carper is confident there is room for diplomatic initiatives to improve the situation with the Taliban ”When we met with General [David] Petraeus [U.S commander in Afghanistan], he said what were doing is telling the Taliban we will continue fight you, but we also want to talk to you,” said Carper. “And the government of Afghanistan, led by President Karzai, is very much interested in moving toward reconciliation.”
On the issue of U.S. presence in the region, Carper sees limited troop withdrawal beginning this summer as promised by President Obama with an eye toward complete withdraw by 2014. “We’re going to begin the process this year. [The Afghans] want us to do that.”
Carper also spent time on his trip working to build economic opportunities for the United States in India and Pakistan. One goal is to lower the tariff barriers U.S. goods face in both countries.
“They can sell most of their [goods and services] in our country without hindrance. We still have barriers we face. We want to get rid of as many of those as we can to further strength our trade relationship,” said Carper.
In India, Carper also worked to increase sales of American military aircraft, including the C-17 and C-130.
But for Carper, any efforts to move forward on economic or security issues of U.S. interest in the region hinge on the stability provided by bringing India and Pakistan closer together.
“We would be able to draw down our troops [in Afghanistan] and reduce the drain on our own budget. It would also provide us with not one, not two, but three good trading partners going forward and provide a counterbalance to China, if needed,” said Carper.