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Bush Trip to South Asia Underscores the Area's Importance

President Bush will soon be visiting India and Pakistan, two countries he says are important for the economic and national security of the United States. VOA's Peter Fedynsky takes a closer look at some of the issues Mr. Bush is expected to discuss during his first trip to the Asian Subcontinent.

Terrorism, trade, democracy, education, and health are among the priorities President Bush mentioned during a recent speech in Washington about his trip to India and Pakistan. He noted that, "good relations with America can help both nations in their quest for peace."

"Not long ago, there was so much distrust between India and Pakistan that when America had good relations with one, it made the other one nervous,” said the president. “Changing that perception has been one of our administration's top priorities, and we're making good progress."

Energy was on the agenda during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's July visit to the United States and will be a high priority during Mr. Bush's trip to India. The president is proposing to supply that country with reactor fuel provided by major nuclear nations if New Delhi agrees to open its civilian nuclear program to international inspections. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was recently in the Indian capital to discuss an agreement on the issue.

The importance of nuclear security was underscored on Thursday during a conference of South Asia experts at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C. think tank, where scholar Stephen Cohen asked, how many nuclear weapons are enough?

"That's a decision the Indians have to make themselves and nobody is trying to tell them how much is enough. On the other hand, the decision that India makes will affect the security and safety of many other countries, in particular, if the Indian nuclear weapons program starts generating thousands as opposed to hundreds of nuclear weapons," Mr. Cohen said.

On economic security, Mr. Bush said that increased trade would benefit Americans, bring prosperity to India, and reduce the appeal of radical Islam in Pakistan. He called Pakistan a key ally in the war on terror and emphasized the U.S. commitment to helping that country strengthen its institutions of civil society. He said some of those institutions already exist.

"Pakistan still has a distance to travel on the road to democracy, yet it has some fundamental institutions that a democracy requires. Pakistan has a lively and generally free press. I'm confident I will hear from them on my trip to Pakistan," joked Mr. Bush.

President Bush says he will call on the leaders of India and Pakistan to use what he called an historic opportunity to work toward lasting peace over the disputed territory of Kashmir. He added that America supports a resolution in Kashmir that is acceptable to both sides.

Karl Inderfurth, the Clinton Administration's Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, said the Kashmiris themselves must not be forgotten. "There are actually three parts of this equation; India-Pakistan, which have to negotiate this, but also the Kashmiri people -- their interests and their concerns must also be taken into account."

Inderfurth says that visits by two successive American presidents to the Asian subcontinent: President Clinton's in March 2000 and George W. Bush's six years later, emphasize the strategic and economic importance of the area to the United States and the entire world.