Nisha D. Biswal Assistant Secretary Of State For South And Central Asian Affairs in her testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on March 24, 2015 on “The U.S. Rebalance In South Asia: Foreign Aid And Development Priorites” said The United States believes that a more stable and prosperous South and Central Asia is directly in the U.S. interest. To enhance security and prosperity for the entire region, the United States is committed to working with the region to prevent destabilizing forces such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and criminal activity from occurring, while helping catalyze growth and prosperity through our assistance programs and initiatives like the New Silk Road (NSR) and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC). The United States is creating sustainable markets and durable connectivity that will define not just South Asia’s future, but also our own. A more economically-connected region will ensure that this stability and prosperity is widely shared and endures for generations to come.
The United States approaches our efforts to improve economic connectivity in Asia fully aware of the challenges the region continues to face. As I noted earlier, transparent and accountable governance is key. While the power of democracy is on display in Sri Lanka and India, persistent challenges to democratic governance threaten the potential of Bangladesh and Maldives, while Nepal continues to struggle with building the political consensus to draft a constitution that will create durable peace.
Mr. Chairman, Sri Lanka represents another dramatic opening that was ushered in by an election where the voice of the people turned conventional wisdom on its head and provided hope to a country that has been captive to corruption, cronyism, and divisive policies that threatened to divide and destabilize the country. President Sirisena, working in a government of national unity with Sinhalese and minority political parties, is pivoting the country away from the harmful policies of his predecessor. The prospects for strengthened democratic institutions, equitable economic growth, and reduced ethnic tensions are much greater under his leadership than they were during the previous regime.
Immediately upon taking office, newly elected President Sirisena and his coalition took actions that reflect their commitment to a comprehensive governance reform agenda, including development assistance and support for civil society and vulnerable communities. We are encouraged by the government’s pledges to create a credible domestic accountability mechanism to address the end of the war and foster reconciliation between the North and South. We have expressed our support for the new government’s focus on strengthening its democracy, rebuilding its economy, and pursuing meaningful reconciliation, and strongly signaled our commitment to rebuild U.S.-Sri Lanka ties
We are also encouraged by the government’s 100-day program to implement democratic reforms in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections. In its first few weeks in office, the Sirisena administration lifted restrictions on the media and on travel to the North, invited all exiled journalists to return, and moved the NGO Directorate out of the purview of the Ministry of Defense. Just last week, the cabinet approved reforms to limit the power of the executive, and the government has taken welcome steps to address ethnic grievances and fight corruption, for which they have welcomed our assistance.
Despite these encouraging signs, Mr. Chairman, let me be clear. The Sri Lankan people, and the Sirisena government, face tough challenges in the months ahead – including the financial mess they inherited; the difficult road on accountability and reconciliation; and restoring the democratic institutions that were systematically undermined by the previous government, including demilitarization of the former conflict zones. But I want to reiterate the assurances made by President Obama and Secretary Kerry that the United States looks forward to deepening our partnership with Sri Lanka and working with them to advance democracy, prosperity, and dignity for all Sri Lankans.
Now I recognize that this commitment is not reflected in the President’s budget request for assistance to Sri Lanka. I would like to underscore that this budget request was written before Sri Lanka’s democratic transition and reflects the more constrained environment created by the previous government, which forced us to draw down our programs. That is not the Sri Lanka of today and we see tremendous opportunities to assist the country in improving governance, accountability, commerce, and more. We look forward to working closely with this committee and with key committees in the House and Senate to explore options for supporting the democratic transition in Sri Lanka.