US State Department Yet To Get Its South And Central Asia Head

There are nine such positions in the complex bureaucratic structure of the State Department, which is similar to the Ministry of External Affairs.

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US State Department Yet To Get Its South And Central Asia Head

A State Department employee adjusts the US flag. (File)


Washington:  The position of the point person for South and Central Asia in the US State Department is lying vacant and it is likely to remain so for now as the Trump Administration, which is to complete its first year in office, is doing a major review of the bureaucratic set up.

There are nine such positions in the complex bureaucratic structure of the State Department, which is similar to the Ministry of External Affairs.

The absence of a full-fledged Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia is "felt now the most" at a critical juncture now when the relationship between the US and Pakistan is at a low ebb, observers feel.

There is an unprecedented jump in the India-US relations and China is dangerously expanding itself in the South and Central Asia like never before, they said.

Possibly for the first time in decades, that an important department like the South and Central Asia Bureau of the State Department is now being headed by a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Alice G Wells.

The bureau is responsible for countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In fact, for the first 300 days of the administration, Wells was named as the Acting Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.

However, she went back to her original position of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary along with eight other positions of acting secretaries of states to meet the existing regulations.

"For vacancies that exist on Inauguration Day or soon thereafter, the Vacancies Reform Act typically limits to 300 days service as Acting in a position which requires Senate confirmation," a State Department spokesperson said.

"Consistent with this requirement, in November, nine Department leaders no longer serve as Acting in Senateconfirmed positions. These individuals will continue in the leadership and management roles of their assignments of record. The Department of State is taking steps to meet all requirements to support continued operations," the spokesperson told PTI.

Also, the position of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), which was a key feature of the previous Obama Administration, no longer exists in the Trump government.

The position of SRAP was held by some of the high-profile diplomats like the late Richard Holbrook, and was responsible for the administration's relationship for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It was a full-fledged department in itself where once several dozen people worked.

The functions and resources of the former SRAP office have been returned to the existing Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA).

"The issues covered by SRAP remain a high priority of the Department, as exemplified by the level of resourcing provided to our diplomatic missions in both countries and the appointment of senior SCA bureau officers to manage our relationships with them," the spokesperson said.

There was a need to wrap up SRAP as the Trump Administration believes in a holistic approach to South Asia of which Afghanistan and Pakistan is a part.

"As the President's South Asia policy makes clear, the administration views the resolution of conflict in Afghanistan in the broader context of the South and Central Asian region,"

the spokesperson explained.

"The reintegration of policymaking for Afghanistan and Pakistan within the SCA Bureau has been a long-standing objective that Congress was initially notified of in 2016. The Department of State is fully committed to dedicating the personnel and resources needed to implement the President's South Asia policy," the spokesperson said.

The situation in State Department is unlikely to change for now as the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is doing a major review of its bureaucratic structure.

President Donald Trump believes that the State department has headcount in excess of what it needs.

In addition to Ambassador Wells, some of the other top diplomats meeting the same fate are Tina Kaidanow, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs; Francisco (Paco) Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; Judy Garber currently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science (OES); and Jennifer Zimdahl Galt; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Educational and Cultural Affairs.


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