The Obama administration on Friday nominated Nancy J Powell as the next ambassador to India. She is a career diplomat with several postings in South Asia, one of them as ambassador to Pakistan.
If confirmed by the US senate, as is the procedure, she will take over from Tim Roemer who left some months ago. Peter Burleigh has been the officiating ambassador since then as charges d’affaires.
Powell’s last posting in the region was as ambassador to Nepal at a critical juncture for that country as it transitioned to democracy. The ambassador-designate has been posted to India before. She headed the US consulate in Kolkata.
Her appointment to India, if confirmed, will be her fifth ambassadorial assignment -- previous four being to Pakistan, Nepal, Uganda and Ghana.
Roemer, the previous ambassador, had announced his resignation the day after it became known that US companies Boeing and Lockheed were not on the short-list for India’s multi-billion dollars purchase order for multi-role combat fighters better known by the acronym MMRCA.
It had then seemed to many that Roemer resigned in protest. He had, in fact, asked to be relieved of the position much before, the MMRCA announcement was just a coincidence.
His replacement, many in India had hoped, would be of the same political stature as the US ambassador to China Gary Locke, former Washington governor and commerce secretary.
A political appointee is often someone with a hotline right to the top, as opposed to the bureaucratic process preferred by careerists. But Powell, said people with insight into US foreign policy establishment, has both clout and seniority to matter.
What about her Pakistan stint?
US diplomats coming to India through Pakistan are considered tainted, biased by what they hear in Pakistan. But, said sources, it could cut the other way too: she knows Pakistan and their little games.
Powell knows India well too. She was there in West Bengal shortly after the Nandigram violence as a National Intelligence Officer talking to major players such as then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who, according to a leaked state department cable, told her his main problem were the Left Front allies.