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US lawmakers concerned over state department’s South and Central Asia bureau

The state department has “failed to form a coherent India policy”, mishandled US-Afghanistan ties in the midst of peace talks with the Taliban and failed to engage directly with Sri Lankan officials during the October-December 2018 constitutional crisis, as a result, they wrote in a letter on Thursday.

world Updated: May 17, 2019 23:38 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Washington
US Democratic lawmakers,Donald Trump,Defence Intelligence Agency
US President Donald Trump named Robert Williams, an intelligence officer at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to head the bureau as assistant secretary of state in December 2018. The nomination was withdrawn this year.(AP PHOTO)

US Democratic lawmakers have criticized President Donald Trump for his “failure” to appoint a confirmed head of the state department’s South and Central Asia (SCA) bureau, that conducts diplomatic relations with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries and said American leadership is “missing in action” in the region when it’s needed most.

The state department has “failed to form a coherent India policy”, mishandled US-Afghanistan ties in the midst of peace talks with the Taliban and failed to engage directly with Sri Lankan officials during the October-December 2018 constitutional crisis, as a result, they wrote in a letter Thursday.

“The State Department’s lack of senior-level involvement on a variety of matters related to South Asia has been deeply disturbing,” they wrote.

House foreign affairs committee Chairman Eliot Engel led the move, joined by all the Democratic members of the panel, Representatives Ami Bera, Brad Sherman, Dian Titus, Chrissy Houlahan, Gerald E Connolly and Andy Levin.

Nisha Biswal, an Obama appointee, was the last confirmed assistant secretary of state to head the SCA bureau. The current head, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, took charge of the department as acting assistant secretary of state in June, 2017, five months after President Trump took office.

Trump named Robert Williams, an intelligence officer at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to head the bureau as assistant secretary of state in December 2018. The nomination was withdrawn this year.

“The absence of a confirmed official to lead the Department’s efforts at advancing some of American’s most important relationships, including with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has had a demonstrably negative impact on US interests and regional stability in South Asia,” the lawmakers wrote.

First Published: May 17, 2019 23:38 IST