Lieutenant General Terry, distinguished guests, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the U.S. security policy in Central and South Asia. I am pleased to see our friends from Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan together with our military colleagues from U.S. Central Command and U.S. Army Central. Before I begin, I’d like to thank Dr. Roger Kangas and the NESA Center for Strategic Studies for hosting this important event at such a complex juncture in regional affairs.
This is clearly a time of great dynamism across South and Central Asia with elections and transitions unfolding over the past year that will influence regional and global affairs for years to come. Last year, Pakistan conducted its first civilian transition of power. In May, India held the largest democratic election in history with over 500 million voters choosing a new path for their country. In Afghanistan, millions of men and women headed to the polls in April, and again this past weekend, in successful, broadly-participatory elections. These events create a wealth of opportunities but also present many challenges.
In the region, and globally, there is considerable anxiety over the transition of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and many are worried about America’s commitment to the region. My message to you is straightforward: America’s commitment to Central and South Asia is enduring because our interests in the region are enduring. The region occupies an area of great geo-strategic importance, bordered by Russia and China, and sitting on key trade and transit routes that link Asia with Europe and the Middle East. Central Asia is a major source of energy feeding a growing global demand for energy resources. U.S. companies have major investments in Central Asia’s energy sector, especially in Kazkahstan. South Asia is home to a burgeoning market of more than 1.5 billion consumers. On the security front, Central and South Asia face the transnational threats of terrorism and extremism, narcotics smugging, human trafficking, money laundering, and the proliferation of materials that could be used in weapons of mass destruction.
We are working closely with our partners in Central and South Asia to address these security challenges. Let me cite some specific examples of our cooperation.
Of critical importance to regional security and to international efforts in Afghanistan has been the support of the Central Asian states for the Northern Distribution Network – or NDN – enabling coalition forces to supply troops in Afghanistan. We are very grateful for this assistance, and as the military effort in Afghanistan winds down, we have been working to transition the Northern Distribution Network for commercial use, so that the countries of Central Asia can reap the benefits of increased trade with Europe and Asia through the transit routes established by the NDN.
The United States and Kazakhstan signed a Five-Year Military Cooperation Plan in November 2012 that runs from 2013 to2017. The United States is assisting Kazakhstan to transform and professionalize its defense forces to make them leaner and more expeditionary, with better educated officers and NCOs. The United States is helping Kazakhstan develop its peacekeeping battalion – KAZBAT - so that it is capable of deploying its troops in UN peacekeeping missions. Steppe Eagle, an annual military exercise, has been a foundational element of our bilateral security cooperation relationship since 2003. The Pentagon and Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense are negotiating a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) as a way to open the door for defense technology collaboration.
Beginning in 2001, the Transit Center at Manas Internationl Airport in Kyrgyzstan also provided vital support to international efforts in Afghanistan. Almost all U.S. and coalition troops passed into and out of Afghanistan through the Transit Center, and U.S. military aircraft based at the Transit Center provided more than 30 percent of the aerial refueling capacity for Afghanistan. The Transit Center formally closed on June 6 of this year, and responsibility for the facility has now been turned over to the Kyrgyz National Guard. Kyrgyzstan has stated its intent to turn the facility into a National Guard base.
The scope of U.S.-Tajikistan security cooperation is very broad. It includes border security, law enforcement and military capacity building, counternarcotics, counterterrorism, combatting violent extremism (CVE), and U.S. funding for demining efforts. We work with Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency (DCA), and also support counternarcotics efforts led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, State Committee on National Security, and the Border Guards Service.
In Turkmenistan, the United States government is working with counternarcotics units and border patrol officers to improve their interdiction and border patrol skills, as well as countering transnational crimes, such as human trafficking and money laundering. Between 2006 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense funded and built three modern border control checkpoints with state of the art technology allowing Turkmenistan to combat the smuggling of illegal narcotics and contraband through its points of entry. The government adopted the Defense Department design and proceeded to build similar checkpoints at its remaining five border crossing at its own expense.
The government of Uzbekistan has been a critical partner in supporting international efforts in Afghanistan. The United States has assisted Uzbekistan with its counter-narcotics efforts by providing equipment that makes it easier for Uzbek border personnel to detect illegal narcotics shipments entering the country via rail.
The United States holds a Strategic Partnership Dialogue with Kazakhstan and Annual Bilateral Consultations with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, where we review the key elements of our relationship. This includes all aspects of our security assistance, as well as economic cooperation and human dimension issues.
Just as in Central Asia, we have robust security partnerships in South Asia. We work with South Asia on a broad range of efforts, from countering terrorism to disaster preparedness to maritime security. In Bangladesh, we work with local security forces to build the nation’s capacity to secure its borders and prevent Bangladesh from being a haven or transit point for terrorist groups. In Nepal, we work closely with the government and military to help the nation prepare for natural disasters.
In the maritime environment, we appreciate South Asian contributions – and those of India and Pakistan in particular – to countering piracy, thereby facilitating much of the world’s trade and energy requirements that transit the Indian Ocean on their way to global markets.
From the Pakistani Navy’s participation and leadership in multi-lateral counter-piracy task forces and counterterrorism efforts, to Bangladesh’s role in reducing maritime crime in the Bay of Bengal, the sea-lines-of-communication in the Indian Ocean are a safer place for global economic transit.
India, in particular, has taken a leadership role in the Indian Ocean Maritime domain to ehance security and reduce transnational threats. Whether chairing the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia or founding the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, we look to India as a key role model to encourage international norms.
The countries of South Asia are also playing a key role in helping to make the world a safer place more broadly. South Asia regularly tops the list of nations that contribute most generously to UN peace-keeping operations, especially Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The United States partners with these and other contributing nations to enhance their capacity to effectively conduct peace support operations. The countries of South Asia have made vital contributions to peace-keeping around the globe; the United States is grateful for South Asia’s sacrifice and support for the United Nations’ mission of peace.
Whether in Central Asia, South Asia, or elsewhere in the world, the human rights situation in our partner countries can sometimes constrain our security cooperation. In most cases, this is not just U.S. policy, it’s U.S. law. We believe that in the long run strong human rights protections and governments that listen to their citizens play an important role to promote domestic stability and regional security.
I would also like to address a new critical development in the region -- the situation in Ukraine that has resonance in Central Asia. We believe that the only way to resolve the current crisis is through diplomacy and de-escalation of military tensions. We will continue to work with the United Nations, our European partners, and the OSCE, as well as with Russia, to find a peaceful path forward that upholds international law and norms. We believe that the people of Ukraine, like the other peoples of this region, should not have to choose between friendly relations with Russia and broad ties to the rest of the world. As President Obama has said, “We want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny, and to have good relations with the United States, with Russia, with Europe, with anyone that they choose.” We also want that for Central Asia, for South Asia, and for all of our partners around the world.
Let me conclude by saying simply, that as I look ahead and assess the challenges and opportunities in the region, I am encouraged by the positive trends. The United States has an enduring commitment to work with our Central and South Asian partners to advance security, stability, and prosperity. Thank you.