Ms. Nisha Biswal is the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. This makes her the top U.S. diplomat responsible for the region and Secretary of State John Kerry’s principal adviser on matters affecting countries in the area. Her portfolio includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. While Afghanistan and Pakistan technically come under her purview, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (currently Ambassador James Dobbins) formally oversees U.S. relations with these two countries.
Ms. Biswal was previously Assistant Administrator for Asia at USAID and therefore comes to the State Department equipped with a development-oriented policy background and substantial expertise in the region. Prior to USAID, Ms. Biswal served on the professionals staffs of two congressional committees and also worked for InterAction, a large development organization.
Why is she in the news?
Ms. Biswal was formally sworn in as the new Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia on November 21 succeeding Robert Blake who completed a three-year term in the same position and is now the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. She is the first Indian-American to hold this position and is one of the highest-ranking Indian-American officials serving in President Obama’s administration.
She recently led the U.S. delegation to Tokyo for the fifth U.S.-India-Japan trilateral, which focused on civil nuclear cooperation and regional connectivity. From there, she flew to Dhaka, Bangladesh in her first official visit to the region as Assistant Secretary, and urged the country’s two major political parties to “find a way forward to hold free, fair and credible elections” by January 2014.
What can we expect from her?
We can expect Assistant Secretary Biswal to leverage her highly respected development credentials as she engages with the countries of the region, the majority of which need technical assistance, good governance, democratic reform, and sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Given her development and foreign affairs expertise, she has the capacity to align U.S. foreign policy objectives with both the short and long-term development needs of the region.
Biswal is also expected to pay special attention to India. She noted during her Senate testimony that “advancing the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership will be of paramount importance” and that “India’s growing economic power makes it a vital anchor for the vision of regional economic engagement, as well as a cornerstone of [the U.S.] strategic rebalance to Asia.”