The United States supports a free and open Indo-Pacific region comprised of nations that are independent, strong, and prosperous. The United States engages closely with Indo-Pacific partners to promote shared values and interests, including private sector-led growth and development, sound and sustainable infrastructure, expanded security cooperation, and democracy and good governance. South Asia is a crucial pillar of this vision.
The United States partnership with India, a fellow democracy of over 1.3 billion people that shares our vision for the Indo-Pacific region, is reaching new heights. We are deepening our relationship by increasing security and defense cooperation, growing trade and investment, and expanding our extensive people-to-people ties. U.S. bilateral trade with India totaled $142 billion in 2018, a 12.6 percent increase from 2017, and the United States welcomed more than 200,000 Indian students in 2019, who contributed over $7 billion to the U.S. economy. The annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue co-led by the Secretaries of State and Defense demonstrates the importance of strengthening this strategic partnership.
We also advance the Indo-Pacific vision in close cooperation with other partners in the region. The U.S.-Bangladesh partnership is founded on strong economic ties and cooperation on security and counterterrorism, and we are working to support the strengthening of its democratic institutions. The United States commends Bangladesh for hosting over one million Rohingya, whom the United States has supported with nearly $670 million in assistance funding. In Sri Lanka, the United States is committed to advancing counter-terrorism and security cooperation; deepening economic ties; and advancing our shared interest in promoting justice, accountability, and reconciliation. With Maldives, we welcome a growing political, economic, and counterterrorism relationship as a democratic partner in the region. The United States continues to support economic resilience in Nepal through development and security cooperation. The United States welcomes further expansion of our close unofficial relationship with Bhutan as demonstrated by the 2019 visit of the Deputy Secretary of State. We also welcome the opportunity to participate in regional platforms, such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), as a way to demonstrate our wide-ranging commitment to the region.
The President’s strategy, which he announced in August 2017, promotes a peaceful and prosperous South Asia, which includes a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. The U.S. also seeks a strong relationship with Pakistan, built especially on joint efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. The South Asia strategy recognizes India’s strategic interest in a stable and developing Afghanistan. The United States welcomes India’s support for peace and economic growth in Afghanistan. In particular, our $3 billion pledged in development projects in all 34 provinces.
Promoting peace, stability, security, and economic self-reliance in Afghanistan is a top U.S. foreign policy priority. The State Department and its partners in the U.S. government are working with the Afghan government to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for terrorists to attack the United States. Even as it seeks to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, the United States is committed to Afghanistan’s long-term economic development and to supporting economic reforms, governmental transparency and accountability, and protection of the human rights of all Afghans, including women and children.
The United States and 61 other countries agreed to develop an economic action plan for Afghanistan at the Geneva Conference in November 2018. Since the Conference, the United States, Afghanistan, and other international partners have been partnering with the World Bank to develop a program of economic initiatives and policy actions to catalyze economic development in Afghanistan. The plan calls for a focus on attracting investment, expanding basic services, improving regional economic linkages, and facilitating rural agriculture. The United States will continue to coordinate with international partners to promote burden sharing and help Afghanistan transition to a more peaceful, prosperous, and self-reliant future.
The United States and Pakistan benefit from cooperation on issues ranging from education to business, to counterterrorism and strategic stability. The South Asia strategy lays out a vision for how we achieve a goal both we and Pakistan share– a peaceful, prosperous South Asia, which includes a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. Resolving the Afghan conflict presents significant opportunities for Pakistan and the broader region. It also opens a path to a stronger U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
There is also much potential to forge new linkages between our two nations’ businesses, educational institutions, and civil society organizations. The U.S. government supports the expansion of the trade and investment relationship with Pakistan, which benefits businesses in both countries. As President Trump noted, there is room to expand well beyond the current $6.6 billion annual bilateral trade relationship. We hope to also cooperate on further integrating women into the Pakistani economy by strengthening the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council, a public private partnership, among other efforts.
The United States’ strategic interests in Central Asia include supporting the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In Central Asia, the United States works to increase opportunities for U.S. business and industry to develop trade and to encourage economic linkages to Afghanistan to foster peace and stability. Cooperative efforts with Central Asian partners prevent security threats to the United States homeland and interests globally. The United States’ aim is to foster a stable and prosperous Central Asia that is free to pursue political, economic, and security interests on its own terms, with partners of its choosing; a Central Asia that is connected to global markets and open to international investment; and, a Central Asia with strong, democratic institutions, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
The United States works through the multilateral C5+1 diplomatic platform to promote regional connectivity and cooperation among the five Central Asian states. Through enhanced economic, environment, and people-to-people ties, the countries of Central Asia support their own sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Within the C5+1, the United States cooperates on joint projects to address common challenges in security, economic connectivity, and the environment.
Bilaterally, the United States promotes fair and reciprocal trade and investment in Central Asia by advocating for improvements in the business climate of each country that provide a level playing field for U.S. businesses to compete, thereby contributing to the U.S. economy and jobs. U.S. advocacy seeks to overcome common challenges in Central Asia that include lack of economic diversification, corruption, weak rule of law, and unpredictable contract enforcement. Through robust educational programs, our embassies aim to increase economic opportunities for young workers, improve access to accurate information and the United States, and promote U.S. higher education to top students from across Central Asia.
Across Central Asia, the United States seeks to facilitate regional growth and trade, to incorporate Afghanistan into Central Asia’s markets, and to enhance regional connectivity from the South Caucasus to South Asia. To achieve these aims, the United States supports regional mechanisms like USTR’s U.S.-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, projects such as the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000), and USAID’s Central Asia Trade Forum.
Our security cooperation with Central Asia works to counter transnational threats such as terrorism and narcotics trafficking, provide secure borders, promote professionalization of security forces, and advance respect for rule of law and human rights. Central Asian states support stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and are key contributors to future peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.
The South and Central Asian region has some of the world’s worst air pollution. In 2016, 17 of the 30 cities with the world’s poorest air quality were in South Asia. The World Bank notes that air pollution causes both higher health care costs and lost labor participation and income. Bureau efforts on air quality focus on protecting people, partnering with host governments to develop policies mindful of environmental stewardship and the importance of air quality, and promoting U.S. solutions, including clean technology and lessons learned from our own successes cleaning up air pollution.
SCA supports U.S. interests abroad by developing meaningful relationships between the American people and the publics of South and Central Asia, building strong partnerships, and sustaining dialogue through academic and professional exchanges, entrepreneurship initiatives, media capacity building, English language programming, women’s empowerment, and cultural preservation programs. Our initiatives include Partnership 2020, which encourages collaboration between U.S. and Indian universities for joint research and best practices, helping American universities recruit top Central Asian students that is also a net benefit to the U.S. economy, and supporting the development of civil society across the region. We endeavor to share accurate information about the United States and encourage links between U.S. experts and innovators, entrepreneurs, and change makers from the region to help them contribute to their communities. Nourishing the intellectual, entrepreneurial, and educational bonds that emerge through these efforts is equally important. Local and regional alumni networks expand such enduring engagement and provide opportunities for volunteerism and mentorship. The largest U.S. program alumni network in the world is in Pakistan with over 29,000 members.