South and Central Asia Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation
Thank you, Alina, and good evening, everyone. It’s an honor to join such a distinguished group of individuals as you prepare to embark on your Fulbright experience. As my colleagues in Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and at our Fulbright Commissions in the region can attest, I’m a huge fan of the Fulbright Program.
Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake very much wanted to attend this dinner and speak to you. As it happens, he’s en route now back from New Delhi, where he just spent two days preparing for the important U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue that Secretary Clinton will lead there next month. So, Bob’s loss is my gain, and I’m delighted to have this opportunity to share some thoughts and a short overview of U.S. policy in the region with you.
I’d like to thank Alina Romanowski for inviting me to speak to you this evening. I’d also like to recognize Marianne Craven and Sue Borja in ECA for all the work they do year-round on Fulbright and many other academic exchange programs.
I’m especially pleased that we are joined tonight by several of our colleagues from the diplomatic corps:
· Mr. Esala Weerakoon, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Sri Lanka
· Mr. Kali Pokhrel, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Nepal
· Ms. Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Counselor, Embassy of Pakistan
· Mr. Salman Sharif, First Secretary, Embassy of Pakistan
· Mr. Piyush Goyal, First Secretary, Embassy of India
We’re also fortunate have with us Mary Kirk, Senior Counselor for Academic Exchanges at the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Ed Roslof, Executive Director of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), two very important partners in our education exchanges.
I also want to extend a warm welcome to our colleagues from our Fulbright Commissions and embassies in the region.
Most of all, I’d like to welcome and congratulate the many Fulbrighters in the audience, both alumni and those of you will soon begin your programs. You are part of an esteemed and valued network that is over 300,000 strong. It includes 43 Nobel Prize Winners, 78 Pulitzer Prize winners, 28 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, and 28 heads of state or government. Many of you are heading to India, where you’ll be in good company; India’s Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna, and our Charge d’Affaires in India, Peter Burleigh, are both part of the Fulbright ranks.
I could talk all evening about the Fulbright program and how vital it is to our public diplomacy worldwide. I won’t do that, but I will say that as Deputy Chief of Mission in Colombo from 2006 to 2009 I was deeply fortunate to know each and every one of the U.S. Fulbrighters who came to Sri Lanka to lecture and do research.
And many years earlier, as Cultural Attache in Chennai I worked with many of the Fulbrighters to organize lectures and discussions in their areas of expertise throughout South India. This enriched and diversified our outreach efforts to a wide variety of Indian audiences. I did this same in Pakistan, Turkey, and several other countries where I was fortunate to serve.
Above all, the hundreds of Fulbrighters I’ve met over the years were outstanding representatives of the American people who touched lives and made a difference to people and institutions in the countries where they were assigned. And I’m confident you will follow in that great tradition.
My role here tonight is to give you a short overview of our foreign policy priorities in the South and Central Asia.
First, let me say that as Fulbrighters, you are not spokespeople for the U.S. Government; you are, however, representatives of the people of the United States, and will be seen through that lens. As an American citizen overseas, you are very likely to be asked about U.S. policies in the country where you are residing, and whether or not you always agree with them, it’s important to understand from what perspective these decisions are made.
In terms of number of countries, the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs is easily the State Department’s smallest regional bureau; we comprise just 11 embassies and cover 13 countries. We are, however, are front and center in the foreign policy priorities of the United States, from our mission in Afghanistan, to our counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan, to our strategic partnership with India. The United States has important interests in all the countries to which you will soon be travelling.
In total, our region is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population – almost 1.7 billion people. Of those 1.7 billion, more than half are under the age of 25; more than a quarter live below the poverty level. The region has struggled with decades of conflict and ethnic and religious tensions, all of which makes our work there challenging. But we have also seen tremendous economic growth in places like India and Bangladesh, as well as recent transitions to democracy in Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, and Bhutan and an on-going transition in Nepal.
To respond to these challenges, as well as to the many opportunities for partnership and cooperation, our bureau has set five distinct but interrelated strategic objectives in the region.
First, to build security and stability throughout South and Central Asia:
This plays out most visibly through our mission, with international partners, to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hand in hand with this mission comes support for capacity building efforts in Afghanistan.
It’s important to note that several Central and South Asian nations are playing a critical role in these efforts.
The Northern Distribution Network (or NDN) is very important route for overland transport of many of the non-lethal supplies for our forces into Afghanistan. This year, we’ve focused on trying to expand the number of routes going through Central Asia. In addition, the great majority of the troops that are flown into Afghanistan come through the Transit Center at the Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan.
Electricity from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan provides power to the streets and homes in Kabul and western Afghanistan.
South Asian countries have also supported international efforts in Afghanistan. India’s development assistance commitment is approximately $1.5 billion, including the construction of highways, transmission lines, and the parliament building. During his trip to Afghanistan in May, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a new commitment of $500 million over the next few years, with priority areas being social programs, agriculture, and infrastructure.
Apart from our mission in Afghanistan, the United States is working to support regional anchors of stability and prosperity that have the potential to increase economic opportunity and improve security across South and Central Asia.
One key to this goal is advancing our strategic partnership with India. The most recent milestone in U.S-India ties came last November. President Obama’s trip to India will be remembered as a watershed, when the U.S. and India embarked at a new level on concrete initiatives to build a global strategic partnership. We are now engaged with India across the entire spectrum of our two governments.
As President Obama said during his visit to India last November, “The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it.”
Growing ties between our governments, people, and economies have helped to sustain and accelerate India’s rise. The nearly three million Indian-Americans in the U.S. provide a powerful connection between our two countries, as do the more than 100,000 Indian students who are enrolled in American universities.
Bilateral trade has more than tripled in the last decade, and engagement, including in counter-terrorism and defense modernization, between the U.S. and Indian governments has never been more comprehensive.
The expanded Fulbright-Nehru program, now jointly funded at roughly equal levels by both governments, has nearly tripled in recent years the number of participants. This is a reflection of the importance both governments place on people-to-people exchanges.
Our engagement with Pakistan is, likewise, deep and broad. Last week we welcomed the announcement by Pakistan’s President Zardari and Afghanistan’s President Karzai of the full implementation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. This step is a concrete demonstration of the vision of development, prosperity and peace the two presidents share, and it will make a significant contribution to regional stability.
Of special interest to this group, I would add that the Fulbright Foreign Student Program with Pakistan is the largest in the world and brought126 new Pakistani Fulbright students to the U.S. this year.
Kazakhstan is playing a growing role on the international stage, a development that we very much support. Last year, Kazakhstan served as Chairman in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the first former Soviet republic to do so, and in December hosted the OSCE Summit. And Kazakhstan just hosted the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and also took over the chairmanship of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) earlier this year.
Related to our goal of regional stability is our second strategic objective: To support post-conflict transitions to peace and prosperity.
In Sri Lanka, we have encouraged the government to undertake an effective reconciliation and accountability process in order to move forward after decades of conflict so that the country can heal and prosper. We are also working with the government and other donors to encourage economic development and re-integration of the north and east into the Sri Lankan mainstream.
In Nepal, we have focused on support for the peace process and constitution drafting and have provided statecraft and negotiation training to members of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly.
In the year since inter-ethnic violence erupted last summer in the south of Kyrgyzstan, we’ve seen the country hold a constitutional referendum, organize peaceful and competitive parliamentary elections, and, importantly, cooperate in an international investigation into the violence, and then allow that report to be publicized inside Kyrgyzstan. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to achieve reconciliation and accountability. We’re working very closely with our friends in Kyrgyzstan to support those efforts.
In all these places, a strong civil society, including a growing number of young leaders eager to take on civic responsibility, has played and will continue to play a central role in reconciliation and in developing a peaceful vision for the future. Through our traditional government-to-government diplomacy and through public diplomacy programs, including Fulbright, we do everything we can to support their efforts.
Which brings me to our third objective: To support democratic institutions and democratic governance throughout the region.
We have welcomed and continue to watch with great interest several recent transitions to democratic governance in the region, the most recent of which is Kyrgyzstan’s transition to parliamentary democracy.
We continue to support the young democracy in the Maldives, as well as Bhutan’s peaceful transition to a constitutional monarchy.
We work with Bangladesh, a moderate, Muslim-majority democracy that has achieved remarkable economic success in the past ten years on a wide range of priorities from democracy promotion to climate change to food security.
In fact, Bangladesh is home to one the region’s most vibrant civil societies, which the U.S. has recognized as a key partner and global leader in furthering progress on issues such as good governance, poverty alleviation, and human rights.
Our fourth objective is to expand opportunities for cooperation and reform in Central Asia.
The re-set in U.S. relations with Russia has provided the political space to engage more fully in Central Asia. Assistant Secretary Blake has initiated a series of Annual Bilateral Consultations (or ABCs) to establish a broader and deeper dialogue with each of the Central Asian countries.
The ABCs include frank discussions about human rights, democratic reform, defense cooperation, and trade. They have proven to be a uniquely valuable way to put all the issues on to the table in a constructive and cooperative atmosphere and to make real progress on our bilateral agenda in each of the Central Asian countries.
Finally, we are committed to advancing regional economic integration and development.
We are often asked why the Central and South Asian countries are combined by the State Department into one region, given their different backgrounds and cultures. In fact, they do share a common heritage that goes back to the ancient Silk Road. These land and sea trading routes brought not only goods, but culture and religion, and ideas and scholarship, from the east and the west, with South and Central Asia serving as a crossroads.
Modern political boundaries and conflicts have disrupted this flow from time to time. Restoring and building greater connectivity between the South and Central Asian economies remains a challenge, but the United States is committed to doing its part in helping to link, for example, the growing energy resources of Central Asia with large markets in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Obstacles to greater integration include the security environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a complex India-Pakistan relationship, and rivalries between Central Asian leaders and governments that have limited progress on regional cooperation in areas such as water and electricity.
It will of course take time, but the vision of a modern Silk Road is a priority for our government.
THE ROLE OF PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
Let me just say a few words about the place of public diplomacy in all this. Public diplomacy and people-to-people ties play a large role in achieving many of the objectives I’ve just summarized for you. While the work our diplomats do at the government-to-government level is critical to our bilateral and regional relationships, the connections and context provided by citizen diplomats like yourselves help to build and sustain the understanding necessary to form lasting global partnerships.
One of the tactics we take in improving economic opportunity in the region is to work with host governments and host country institutions to contribute to the quality of – and access to -- education. The Fulbright program has a major role to play in this, not only through the exchange of students and scholars, but through the English Teaching Assistant program as well.
We are working in the region to expand both English language instruction and advising on educational opportunities in the U.S. and to reach out broadly to ever more diverse populations in these activities. We also very much want to expand the numbers of Americans who study abroad.
For example, right now, for every American going to India to study, 40 Indians are coming to our country to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees. To be more competitive in the global marketplace, we need to have larger numbers of our young people traveling to and interacting with the SCA region.
In addition to educational exchanges, we work in a vast range of ways, including professional exchanges, speaker programs, cultural events, English language training, civil society support, and American spaces that are easily accessible to the public, to increase greater mutual understanding. In addition, we are vastly expanding our use of social media and SMS messaging, which is one of the communication tools of choice in the region.
All our embassies – in countries from Tajikistan to Sri Lanka – are making more extensive use of exchange program alumni, both in host countries and the United States, and we hope you will become a part of this growing network.
In closing, let me say that I’m confident the Fulbright experience on which you are about to embark will be a deeply fulfilling experience on many levels. I can tell you from my personal experience of almost 30 years in the Foreign Service that Fulbrighters make a lasting impact on individuals and communities around the world. I consider myself deeply fortunate to have known and welcomed to my homes overseas hundreds of Fulbright grantees over the years – and am fortunate to count many of them as friends to this day.
I wish you good luck and much success in your Fulbright year ahead and look forward to hearing about all the great work you are doing in our region in your many and diverse disciplines.
Thank you very much, and I’d be pleased to answer any questions you may have.