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India in new US South Asia bureau

India will be the key player in the re-organised South Asia Bureau of the US State Department.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 11:16 IST

India will be the key player in the re-organised South Asia bureau of the State Department that now includes Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

These are countries with which India has well-developed relations, cultivated painstakingly over more than a decade, as New Delhi positioned itself with the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

In addition to balancing the workload between the regional bureaus, the State Department said: "The restructuring is designed to foster increased cooperation among the countries of Central Asia and South Asia as they work towards our shared goals of security, prosperity, stability and freedom" and advancing the interests of Afghanistan.

"This is the transformational diplomacy of (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice and the creation of a large South Asian and Central Asian bureau - where the key country is India," contended Walter Andersen, a former senior State Department official in the South Asia bureau.

"The US has strategic interest in those areas and wants them to look southward and not northward. And creating the bureau in that way is an affirmation of it.

"It has five more countries. And India is making an impact in those Central Asian countries. India had started out when those countries became countries and has relations with those.

"They want an India that will cooperate and have a cooperative relationship - a stable country in an unstable area," Andersen said.

Over the last few months, Rice has fleshed out "transformational diplomacy" as a Bush administration dictum for foreign policy.

Transformational diplomacy targets US diplomacy and aid to countries that are not just strategic or national security priorities but also moving towards becoming democracies.

Shifting more personnel to the countries now covered by the bureau and to India with the reorganisation of the State Department under Rice also makes it possible to accomplish projects and diplomacy more speedily.

"I can tell you as an insider that one of the biggest problems we had is that we did not know anybody we could just pick up the phone and call," recalls Andersen. "This reorganisation increases the chances you can get things done. It's not glamorous, but it's the real nuts and bolts."

Now there will be people on the ground that can take care of business, economic, military and diplomatic, South Asia experts concede, in praise of Rice's changes.

Richard Boucher, a former spokesman for the State Department and a career foreign service man, is now at the helm of the South and Central Asia Bureau.

"Boucher is a senior person, a professional, and close to the administration. You now have an assistant secretary who is a significant operator from the inside," said Andersen.

"In his last position as a press spokesman -- you are the most closest confidant of the secretary of state by necessity."

While Boucher has never served in any South Asian or Central Asian country, his past portfolio gives him the necessary experience.

"He understands enough about the region. The more important thing is to know the issues, which he does, and how the system operates. At that level you want a mover and shaker and someone with a vision."