Floundering US policy in S Asia

If the US wants a more positive result it will have to take a fresh look at its south Asia policy.

The American foreign policy in south Asia has been floundering at present not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it also seems to be losing direction in other places like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives. Just few years back when India and America signed a strategic partnership it was  seen as a breakthrough in their bilateral relationship.

President George Bush was given much credit for this. India and the US signed the nuclear deal and their relationship entered a new phase. Some people in America even contemplated that India would be a new pivot for American foreign policy in Asia. But this expectation now seems far-fetched during the second tenure of Obama. What is worse American foreign policy has faced this kind of fiasco not only in India but in most parts of South Asia.

The attack on twin towers in New York had led to a greater American engagement with South Asia in recent times. The Americans came to this region to stamp out the problems of Islamist extremism especially in Afghanistan which also willy-nilly took them to Pakistan. In Pakistan, they managed to kill Osama bin Laden, the supposed architect of the 26/11. But this ostensible success only pointed out the real failure of American foreign policy towards Pakistan, whom they had considered as front line ally.


Though Afghanistan at present is undergoing election process to elect a new president their relationship with two time Afghan president Karzai also seems to be no better. Karzai refused to sign agreement with the US which would have allowed stay of their forces in Afghanistan. On the other hand Karzai seems keen to broker peace with Taliban. In any case Americans seem to be withdrawing from Af-Pak region without achieving much. In fact, a view is gaining ground in America that in this imbroglio the country lost one decade, which brought lot of misery to the people and even resulted in the crumbling of its economy.


Major irritant

The much touted Indo-US strategic partnership also seems to be running out of steam. The bilateral relation between India and the US nosedived after the Devyani Khobragade case. This controversy is refusing to end as the US authorities revived charges after withdrawing them once. This has proved to be a major irritant.


Meanwhile, the developments on the international scene have also not helped the cause of India-US bilateral relationship. India chose to abstain from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote on Crimea. This clearly indicated that India is unwilling to dump Russia compromising its strategic and economic interests just to be in good books of America.

The strategic interest of India also prevailed in the vote against Sri Lanka in UNHRC where India once again abstained. Though the opinion on Sri Lanka on its human right records is divided in India, the deterioration in bilateral Indo-US relationship probably made the job of India abstaining from vote easy. It goes without saying that the American effort to corner Sri Lanka on human rights issue has not yielded much dividend. If anything it has only worked against them and given China a greater foothold in the country.

The problem in the US-Bangladesh relationship arose with the removal of Nobel Laureate Md Yunus from the post of chairman of Grameen Bank. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted the decision reversed, in which the country was not successful. To deal with this situation the US  started siding with opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and became even soft to Jamaat-e-Islami. Again this policy of the US has not served any purpose and if anything it has only backfired. In the UN General Assembly vote against Russia even Bangladesh abstained.


Similarly, the US foreign policy in the Maldives has not yielded any positive result. Mohamed Nasheed, the candidate supported by the West, lost in the controversial presidential elections held in the Maldives. Besides that the US effort to sign Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Maldives also failed. Now with Abdulla Yameen in power, the former dictator Maumun Abdual Gayoom is actually exercising control over the government. Given Gayoom’s apprehension towards West, the US has also lost considerable influence in the country.


It is quite clear that American Foreign policy in South Asia seems to have lost direction. Americans are returning from Af-Pak region after only making the situation messier. Their relationship with India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have gone down and if anything these countries now seriously question American motives in South Asia. Clearly if the US wants a more positive result it will have to take a fresh look at its south Asia policy.

(The writer is an associate fellow at Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses)

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