US state department’s heavy hitter for India will be an Indian origin bureaucrat, Nisha Desai Biswal, a first for both the community and the administration.
President Barack Obama on Thursday sent a proposal to the senate to appoint Biswal assistant secretary of state for South Asia, top US diplomat for India.
If confirmed Biswal will replace Robert Blake, an impossibly gangly career diplomat who liked to joke at India-US events his speeches were almost always the same as Indian ambassador’s.
Biswal’s appointment was welcomed by the Indian American community, its experts and non-experts. “Great news ... she is a terrific role model,” said a Facebook post.
“This is a landmark appointment for Indian-Americans, the first time someone from the community has been chosen for the top diplomatic job dealing with South Asia,” said Sadanand Dhume, an Indian origin expert with conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.
“Nisha Biswal is an excellent choice for the position. She's well-informed about the region and has many friends and admirers in both the executive and legislative branches of government.”
Biswal is currently assistant administrator for Asia at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a position she has held since September 2010.
At USAID, her boss was administrator Raj Shah, another Indian American. who remains the senior most Indian American in the Obama administration.
From 2005 to 2010, Biswal was the Majority Clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on the Committee on Appropriations in the House of Representatives.
Biswal and her husband Subrat Biswal have two daughters.
The position of assistant secretary of state - roughly the equivalent of additional secretary - is a crucial one, with responsibilities including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
It wasn’t clear from the White House announcement if she would also hold charge of Central Asia, as was Blake’s brief, along side South Asia. She would most likely.
But South Asia will not include Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have been entrusted to a special representative since the creation of that office in 2008, with Richard Holbrooke in charge.