U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher said, South Asia is a region beset by many challenges: poverty, disease, terrorism, drugs, weak governance, corruption and natural disasters. In testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs subcommittee, Ambassador Boucher said the "capabilities, resources and ideals of the United States uniquely position us to help transform the region into one rooted in democratic stability and committed to fighting extremism."
Supporting efforts to build democratic institutions, the U.S. is focusing particularly on helping Afghanistan develop good governance at the local and district level. The U.S. attaches great importance to the upcoming presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections and has requested over two-hundred million dollars in funding from the U.S. Congress to assist those elections.
Ambassador Boucher noted that the recent election outcome in Pakistan illustrated the Pakistani people’s commitment to democracy and rejection of extremism. He said the U.S. must help the Pakistani people seize the opportunity by funding programs to support democracy and strengthen the judiciary. The U.S. government, he said, also seeks to spend more than twenty million dollars to support democracy and good governance in Bangladesh.
Ambassador Boucher warned that insurgents and violent extremists continue to pose a serious threat to regional stability and the safety of the world. For that reason, he said:
"We spent a lot of money building the Afghan army and police force, which is a key element in stabilizing the country. We’re embarked on a program now to help transform the Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas, so that they’re better able to provide security for the people who live in those areas. We’re providing anti-terrorism assistance and courses in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other places. And we have border control and narcotics programs in Afghanistan and in all its neighbors."
Other U.S. assistance programs are aimed at fighting disease, improving health, supporting education, and stimulating economic development in the region.
President George Bush has requested more than two billion dollars in assistance for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives for fiscal year 2009. Ambassador Boucher said the U.S. has made progress on a broad range of fronts in South Asia, but important challenges remain ahead.