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Overview:

Located within the Department of State, the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs handles US foreign policy with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Two of the most critical policy areas that the bureau oversees are Afghanistan, which is still trying to recover from the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s and the US-led coalition that invaded the country in 2001, and Indian-Pakistan relations—a longstanding source of tension and conflict between two nuclear powers. The leadership of the bureau has come under criticism during the George W. Bush administration for its lack of knowledge about Pakistani politics and its deference to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly calls the shots on US foreign policy towards Pakistan.

 
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History:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to 1992, the State Department had a Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, which covered parts of today’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The Bureau of South Asian Affairs was established as dictated by the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1992. The same legislation authorized the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. In 2006, the Bureau of South Asian Affairs absorbed the Office of Central Asian Affairs, which had been part of the State Department’s Europe and Eurasia bureau, creating the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

 
Three of the most important historical developments in this part of the world involved India-Pakistan relations, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and two invasions of Afghanistan, over 20 years apart.
 
Since Pakistan won its independence from India in 1947, the two regional powers have fought numerous wars—the worst occurring in 1947–48, 1965 and 1971. These conflicts have stemmed from both border disputes and religious differences between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Making matters worse is the presence of nuclear weapons on the Indian subcontinent. India tested its first nuclear weapons in the 1970s, while Pakistan is believed to have “gone nuclear” by 1987, although it did not publicly admit to carrying out nuclear tests until 1998.
 
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, its South Asian underbelly became the source of five new independent countries. Almost overnight, the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan took control of their own affairs. While these five countries were still part of the USSR, they were joined for a time by Afghanistan, which came under Soviet control following a military invasion in 1979. The next 10 years proved tumultuous for Soviet occupiers as CIA-backed rebels, known as the Mujahideen, fought a fierce resistance movement that ultimately forced the Red Army out of Afghanistan in 1989.
 

During the 1990s, one branch of the Mujahideen, the Taliban, seized control of Afghanistan and imposed a strict rule of law based on their extreme interpretation of the Quran. The Taliban allied itself with al Qaeda, a terrorist organization with roots that also stemmed from the Mujahideen. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a training and staging area for its attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The fierce reaction to the attacks resulted in the United States invading Afghanistan in October 2001. The Taliban and al Qaeda fled in the wake of the invasion, taking to the mountains that line the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Elements of the Taliban continue to battle the military forces of the United States and its allies.

 

more
What it Does:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the State Department, the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs deals with American foreign policy and diplomatic relations with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Foreign affairs between the US and these Asian countries is handled by a host of US ambassadors and other senior State Department officials who work within the bureau.

 
 
Afghanistan - After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the ruling Taliban.  Since then, the US has engaged in extensive humanitarian and infrastructure endeavors. However much of the country remains in the hands of warlords and even the Taliban are resurgent. More than 500 Americans have lost their lives in this ongoing war.
 
Bangladesh - Historically one of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh is considered a strategic locale in South Asia. According to the State Department, potential terrorist movements and activities in or through Bangladesh pose a potentially serious threat to India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma. The Bangladesh Government routinely denies Indian allegations that Indian insurgents in northeast India operate out of Bangladesh and that extremist Islamist forces are overwhelming Bangladesh’s traditionally moderate character. It also denies there is any international terrorist presence in Bangladesh. The State Department considers the country’s government to have a weak political system that suffers from corruption. Although Bangladesh is nominally a democracy, the current government has banned all political activities and has yet to set a definite date for elections or its own departure from office.
 
Bhutan - A small mountainous kingdom, Bhutan has traditionally been a decentralized theocracy, although more recently it has evolved into a constitutional monarchy with a representative government. In 2002, the election laws were changed so that each citizen over the age of 21 could vote by secret ballot for a representative to the National Assembly, and Bhutan held its first election in March 2008.
 
India - The second most populous country in the world, with more than one billion people, and the world’s largest democracy, India is a country of both rising wealth and staggering poverty. Because of its sheer size, India has been the target of America foreign policy objectives, although the United States’ relationship with the predominantly Hindu nation has been rocky at times, as American policymakers have tried to remain friendly while also aiding India’s neighboring enemy, Pakistan.
 
Kazakhstan - The largest of the former Soviet republics in the region, Kazakhstan shares a long border with Russia and a shorter one with China. Its proximity to these two superpowers has made Kazakhstan an important player in US foreign policy. The country is also rich in oil and natural gas reserves, making it a prime target for oil companies.
 
Kyrgyzstan - The US government provides humanitarian assistance, non-lethal military assistance, and economic and political aid to this former Soviet republic. The U.S> also maintains a military air base in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz economy was severely affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of its vast market. In 1990, 98% of Kyrgyz exports went to other parts of the Soviet Union. Thus, the nation’s economic performance in the early 1990s was worse than any other former Soviet republic except war-torn Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
 
Maldives - An island nation located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives consists of almost 1,200 islands. Its independence has been threatened in the past; on November 8, 1988, Sri Lankan mercenaries tried to overthrow the Maldivian government. The country was also greatly affected by the tsunami in 2004, which killed 82 people and wrecked the tourism industry. The Maldives is a nation of Sunni Muslims, with which the United States has friendly relations.
 
Nepal - A mountainous country dominated by the Himalayas and Mount Everest (which sits on the border with Tibet), Nepal has historically been ruled by kings. In April 2006, massive countrywide demonstrations were held, calling for the restoration of democracy. Free elections were in fact held in April 2008, and were won by a Maoist Communist Party.
 
Pakistan - Situated between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan has been a key interest of the United States since the Cold War. With India at one time a nominal ally of the Soviet Union, American policymakers forged a military-oriented relationship with the government in Islamabad which continues today. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration chose Pakistan’s military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, as its ally in the region. The U.S. gave Musharraf more than $7 billion in military aid over the next six years, yet most of those billions were spent on heavy arms more suitable for fighting India than for tracking down al-Qaeda terrorists. Musharraf suspended the constitution in November 2007. Two weeks later, President Bush praised Musharraf for having “advanced democracy in Pakistan.” But despite this strong support from the US, Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008 following elections that brought opposition parties together to oust him from power.
 
Sri Lanka - An island nation located off the coast of India, Sri Lanka has struggled with internal violence stemming from attempts by its minority, the Tamils, to gain independence. A rebel group known as the “Tigers” has carried out attacks on Sri Lankan officials, including the assassination of the country’s president in 1993. The US has backed the Sri Lankan government and labeled the Tigers a terrorist organization.
 
Tajikistan - A former Soviet republic, Tajikistan borders on both China and Afghanistan, giving it strategic importance for the US. Soon after it gained its independence from the USSR, Tajikistan suffered from a civil war from 1992 to 1997 between “old-guard” leaders who ruled under Soviet power and a coalition of democratic liberal reformists and Islamists. Because of its proximity to Afghanistan, the US has worked hard to develop a friendly relationship with the Tajik government, providing military, counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism assistance.
 
Turkmenistan - This former Soviet Republic has been slow to embrace democracy since gaining independence. Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state that was dominated by its first president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who retained his monopoly on political power until his death on December 21, 2006. Niyazov’s successor was chosen through elections that “did not meet international standards,” according to the State Department. Turkmenistan borders on Iran and Afghanistan, making it a prime target for US policymakers. American officials, however, have not been able to develop a strong relationship with Turkmenistan, which, among other things, backed out of a key natural gas pipeline initiative that the US and American energy companies sought to build under the Caspian Sea.
 

Uzbekistan

- This former Soviet republic played a key role in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by allowing American military forces to stage operations on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. Relations between Uzbekistan and the US have not been good since, as the government of Uzbekistan sought to limit the influence of US and other foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on civil society, political reform, and human rights inside the country. Relations deteriorated rapidly following US and European demands for an independent, international investigation into the May 2005 Andijan massacre. Uzbekistan’s dictator, Islam Karimov, became so infuriated by U.S. criticism that he ordered American troops to evacuate the Karshi-Khanabad air base they had been using since the 9/11 attacks. Nonetheless, Uzbekistan has Central Asia’s largest population and the State Department consideres it “vital” to US efforts to promote stability and security in the region.

 

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Where Does the Money Go:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the State Department’s FY 2009 budget request, the United States has spent $15.5 billion on security and reconstruction assistance for Afghanistan since 2001. Likewise, the US has spent $10.5 billion on similar concerns for Pakistan over the same time period. Security assistance includes equipping and training security forces; funding a “bold” anti-narcotics program that covers public information, law enforcement, judicial reform, eradication and economic development; and increasing border security.

 

For FY 2009, the State Department has requested a total of $2.21 billion in appropriations to support a wide range of economic, health and security-related programs for countries in South and Central Asia. This includes more than $324 million for counter-narcotics efforts, $296 million for health initiatives, $226 million for education and $1.17 billion for economic support.

 

more
Controversies:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bureau Leadership Faulted for Lack of Expertise

The United States’ insistence on supporting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf can be blamed in part on the quality of analysis coming out of the State Department. According to retired American foreign policy officials, no one with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department—a first in the department’s history. Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American drug wars; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia.
 
“They know nothing of Pakistan,” a former senior US diplomat said.
 
Reportedly, the United States’ Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. The vice president was close to Musharraf and refused to consider any criticism of the Pakistani leader. Also, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington were sent to meet Cheney’s aides rather than State Department officials.
 
Not wanting to cross Cheney, Boucher largely limited his remarks on the crisis in Pakistan to expressions of support for Musharraf. Current and retired American diplomats claimed that Boucher refused to let the State Department even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted, even though 2007 was an election year in Pakistan. Boucher also refused to meet with leading opposition figures, such as former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf exiled.
 
State Department Accused of Imposing Gag Order
In the wake of the announcement that the US was seeking to relax rules governing nuclear trade with India, critics of the proposal called on the State Department to make public its responses to Congressional questions aimed at sorting out ambiguous and contradictory statements about the deal.
 
Two former senior nonproliferation officials, Fred McGoldrick and Henry Sokolski, joined the Arms Control Association and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in demanding the State Department drop what amounted to a “gag” order on its unclassified responses to a detailed set of over 40 questions about the pending US-Indian nuclear trade deal.
 
“The administration’s responses should be made publicly available so that US and Indian lawmakers and the public can evaluate whether the draft US-Indian accord conforms to the terms and conditions established by Congress,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The administration’s unwillingness to make their answers more widely available suggests they have something to hide from either US or Indian legislators,” he said.
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, who served as deputy for nonproliferation policy under Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, agreed. “Sitting on the answers to these questions is no way to clear the air on the deal’s controversial provisions, which the Indian public is rightly worried about,” he said.
Under a 2006 law known as the Henry J. Hyde Act (PDF), Congress granted the President limited and conditional authority to waive the longstanding US legal restrictions on nuclear trade with countries, such as India, that have tested nuclear weapons, have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and do not allow comprehensive international nuclear safeguards.

 

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Founded: 2006
Annual Budget: $146.1 million
Employees: 995
Official Website: http://www.state.gov/p/sca/
Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Biswal, Nisha Desai
Assistant Secretary

President Barack Obama has nominated an Indian-American woman to be the next assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Affairs. Assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) since September 2010, Nisha Desai Biswal will be the first person of South Asian origin to head the bureau, which normally oversees relations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Because of the U.S. war, however, since 2008 relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan have been handled separately by a special U.S. Representative. If confirmed by the Senate, Biswal would succeed Robert Blake, who has served in the post since May 2009.

 

Born in 1968 in the State of Gujarat, India, Nisha Desai Biswal is the daughter of Kanu and Lata Desai, who emigrated from rural India. “As first generation immigrants, our parents journeyed far from rural India to pursue the American Dream and a better life for their children. We are grateful for their continued sacrifices on our behalf,” Biswal has said. She earned a B.A. in International Relations at the University of Virginia in 1989.

 

After working in public relations for a short time, Biswal worked for the American Red Cross from 1993 to 1995, both at the Washington, DC, headquarters and as an overseas delegate in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Shifting to government service, Biswal served at USAID from 1995 to 1999 in several capacities, including special assistant to the administrator, chief of staff in the Management Bureau and in the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, and the Office of Transition Initiatives.

 

Biswal served on the professional staff of the House International Relations Committee from 1999 to 2002, where she was responsible for South and Central Asia policy, as well as oversight of the State Department and USAID.

 

From 2002 to 2005, she served as the policy and advocacy director at InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international humanitarian and development nongovernmental organizations.

 

Returning to Capitol Hill, Biswal served from 2005 to 2010 as the majority clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, where she provided staff support regarding appropriation and oversight of the U.S. international affairs budget.

 

Biswal has been a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China since March 2011.

 

She is married to Subrat Biswal, with whom she has two daughters, Safya and Kaya.

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Obama Nominates Indian-American Nisha Biswal as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia (by Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India)

NRI Heads US State Dept’s South Asia Section (by Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times)

Indian-American Nisha Biswal Nominated for Key Post in Obama Govt (PTI)

Official Biography

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Blake, Robert
Previous Assistant Secretary

To handle U.S. interests in one of the most volatile and important regions of the world, President Barack Obama has turned to veteran diplomat Robert O. Blake, Jr., who has experience in the region and whose father was a prominent diplomat as well, serving as Ambassador to Mali from 1971 to 1973. Blake was sworn in as assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affiars on May 26, 2009. South and Central Asia includes, among other countries, current hotspots Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India. As Blake himself recently stated, “In no region of the world are the stakes higher for US national security than in South and Central Asia.” 

 
Born in 1958, Blake earned his BA from Harvard in 1980 and an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1984. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1985, and served at the American embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt. He has also held a number of positions at the State Department in Washington. In his first South Asian posting, Blake served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, from 2003 to 2006. From 2006 to 2009, he served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka, which was in the final throes of a twenty-five-year-long civil war between the Tamil Tiger separatists, who wanted an independent homeland for the island’s Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese-dominated government. Blake was criticized for his advocacy of a political solution to the conflict, which he mistakenly argued could not be resolved by force of arms. 
 
Blake’s only political donations have been to Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. In 2006, Blake donated $2,600 to Whitehouse’s successful Senatorial campaign, while in 2002 he donated $1,000 to his failed campaign for Governor. 
 
Blake and his wife, Sofia, have three daughters. 
 
U.S.-India Relations: The Making of a Comprehensive Relationship (Speech delivered at the Indian Army War College, Indore, India, August 23, 2004)
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Overview:

Located within the Department of State, the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs handles US foreign policy with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Two of the most critical policy areas that the bureau oversees are Afghanistan, which is still trying to recover from the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s and the US-led coalition that invaded the country in 2001, and Indian-Pakistan relations—a longstanding source of tension and conflict between two nuclear powers. The leadership of the bureau has come under criticism during the George W. Bush administration for its lack of knowledge about Pakistani politics and its deference to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly calls the shots on US foreign policy towards Pakistan.

 
more
History:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to 1992, the State Department had a Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, which covered parts of today’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The Bureau of South Asian Affairs was established as dictated by the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1992. The same legislation authorized the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. In 2006, the Bureau of South Asian Affairs absorbed the Office of Central Asian Affairs, which had been part of the State Department’s Europe and Eurasia bureau, creating the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

 
Three of the most important historical developments in this part of the world involved India-Pakistan relations, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and two invasions of Afghanistan, over 20 years apart.
 
Since Pakistan won its independence from India in 1947, the two regional powers have fought numerous wars—the worst occurring in 1947–48, 1965 and 1971. These conflicts have stemmed from both border disputes and religious differences between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Making matters worse is the presence of nuclear weapons on the Indian subcontinent. India tested its first nuclear weapons in the 1970s, while Pakistan is believed to have “gone nuclear” by 1987, although it did not publicly admit to carrying out nuclear tests until 1998.
 
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, its South Asian underbelly became the source of five new independent countries. Almost overnight, the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan took control of their own affairs. While these five countries were still part of the USSR, they were joined for a time by Afghanistan, which came under Soviet control following a military invasion in 1979. The next 10 years proved tumultuous for Soviet occupiers as CIA-backed rebels, known as the Mujahideen, fought a fierce resistance movement that ultimately forced the Red Army out of Afghanistan in 1989.
 

During the 1990s, one branch of the Mujahideen, the Taliban, seized control of Afghanistan and imposed a strict rule of law based on their extreme interpretation of the Quran. The Taliban allied itself with al Qaeda, a terrorist organization with roots that also stemmed from the Mujahideen. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a training and staging area for its attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The fierce reaction to the attacks resulted in the United States invading Afghanistan in October 2001. The Taliban and al Qaeda fled in the wake of the invasion, taking to the mountains that line the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Elements of the Taliban continue to battle the military forces of the United States and its allies.

 

more
What it Does:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the State Department, the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs deals with American foreign policy and diplomatic relations with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Foreign affairs between the US and these Asian countries is handled by a host of US ambassadors and other senior State Department officials who work within the bureau.

 
 
Afghanistan - After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the ruling Taliban.  Since then, the US has engaged in extensive humanitarian and infrastructure endeavors. However much of the country remains in the hands of warlords and even the Taliban are resurgent. More than 500 Americans have lost their lives in this ongoing war.
 
Bangladesh - Historically one of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh is considered a strategic locale in South Asia. According to the State Department, potential terrorist movements and activities in or through Bangladesh pose a potentially serious threat to India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma. The Bangladesh Government routinely denies Indian allegations that Indian insurgents in northeast India operate out of Bangladesh and that extremist Islamist forces are overwhelming Bangladesh’s traditionally moderate character. It also denies there is any international terrorist presence in Bangladesh. The State Department considers the country’s government to have a weak political system that suffers from corruption. Although Bangladesh is nominally a democracy, the current government has banned all political activities and has yet to set a definite date for elections or its own departure from office.
 
Bhutan - A small mountainous kingdom, Bhutan has traditionally been a decentralized theocracy, although more recently it has evolved into a constitutional monarchy with a representative government. In 2002, the election laws were changed so that each citizen over the age of 21 could vote by secret ballot for a representative to the National Assembly, and Bhutan held its first election in March 2008.
 
India - The second most populous country in the world, with more than one billion people, and the world’s largest democracy, India is a country of both rising wealth and staggering poverty. Because of its sheer size, India has been the target of America foreign policy objectives, although the United States’ relationship with the predominantly Hindu nation has been rocky at times, as American policymakers have tried to remain friendly while also aiding India’s neighboring enemy, Pakistan.
 
Kazakhstan - The largest of the former Soviet republics in the region, Kazakhstan shares a long border with Russia and a shorter one with China. Its proximity to these two superpowers has made Kazakhstan an important player in US foreign policy. The country is also rich in oil and natural gas reserves, making it a prime target for oil companies.
 
Kyrgyzstan - The US government provides humanitarian assistance, non-lethal military assistance, and economic and political aid to this former Soviet republic. The U.S> also maintains a military air base in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz economy was severely affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of its vast market. In 1990, 98% of Kyrgyz exports went to other parts of the Soviet Union. Thus, the nation’s economic performance in the early 1990s was worse than any other former Soviet republic except war-torn Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
 
Maldives - An island nation located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives consists of almost 1,200 islands. Its independence has been threatened in the past; on November 8, 1988, Sri Lankan mercenaries tried to overthrow the Maldivian government. The country was also greatly affected by the tsunami in 2004, which killed 82 people and wrecked the tourism industry. The Maldives is a nation of Sunni Muslims, with which the United States has friendly relations.
 
Nepal - A mountainous country dominated by the Himalayas and Mount Everest (which sits on the border with Tibet), Nepal has historically been ruled by kings. In April 2006, massive countrywide demonstrations were held, calling for the restoration of democracy. Free elections were in fact held in April 2008, and were won by a Maoist Communist Party.
 
Pakistan - Situated between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan has been a key interest of the United States since the Cold War. With India at one time a nominal ally of the Soviet Union, American policymakers forged a military-oriented relationship with the government in Islamabad which continues today. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration chose Pakistan’s military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, as its ally in the region. The U.S. gave Musharraf more than $7 billion in military aid over the next six years, yet most of those billions were spent on heavy arms more suitable for fighting India than for tracking down al-Qaeda terrorists. Musharraf suspended the constitution in November 2007. Two weeks later, President Bush praised Musharraf for having “advanced democracy in Pakistan.” But despite this strong support from the US, Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008 following elections that brought opposition parties together to oust him from power.
 
Sri Lanka - An island nation located off the coast of India, Sri Lanka has struggled with internal violence stemming from attempts by its minority, the Tamils, to gain independence. A rebel group known as the “Tigers” has carried out attacks on Sri Lankan officials, including the assassination of the country’s president in 1993. The US has backed the Sri Lankan government and labeled the Tigers a terrorist organization.
 
Tajikistan - A former Soviet republic, Tajikistan borders on both China and Afghanistan, giving it strategic importance for the US. Soon after it gained its independence from the USSR, Tajikistan suffered from a civil war from 1992 to 1997 between “old-guard” leaders who ruled under Soviet power and a coalition of democratic liberal reformists and Islamists. Because of its proximity to Afghanistan, the US has worked hard to develop a friendly relationship with the Tajik government, providing military, counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism assistance.
 
Turkmenistan - This former Soviet Republic has been slow to embrace democracy since gaining independence. Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state that was dominated by its first president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who retained his monopoly on political power until his death on December 21, 2006. Niyazov’s successor was chosen through elections that “did not meet international standards,” according to the State Department. Turkmenistan borders on Iran and Afghanistan, making it a prime target for US policymakers. American officials, however, have not been able to develop a strong relationship with Turkmenistan, which, among other things, backed out of a key natural gas pipeline initiative that the US and American energy companies sought to build under the Caspian Sea.
 

Uzbekistan

- This former Soviet republic played a key role in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by allowing American military forces to stage operations on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. Relations between Uzbekistan and the US have not been good since, as the government of Uzbekistan sought to limit the influence of US and other foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on civil society, political reform, and human rights inside the country. Relations deteriorated rapidly following US and European demands for an independent, international investigation into the May 2005 Andijan massacre. Uzbekistan’s dictator, Islam Karimov, became so infuriated by U.S. criticism that he ordered American troops to evacuate the Karshi-Khanabad air base they had been using since the 9/11 attacks. Nonetheless, Uzbekistan has Central Asia’s largest population and the State Department consideres it “vital” to US efforts to promote stability and security in the region.

 

more
Where Does the Money Go:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the State Department’s FY 2009 budget request, the United States has spent $15.5 billion on security and reconstruction assistance for Afghanistan since 2001. Likewise, the US has spent $10.5 billion on similar concerns for Pakistan over the same time period. Security assistance includes equipping and training security forces; funding a “bold” anti-narcotics program that covers public information, law enforcement, judicial reform, eradication and economic development; and increasing border security.

 

For FY 2009, the State Department has requested a total of $2.21 billion in appropriations to support a wide range of economic, health and security-related programs for countries in South and Central Asia. This includes more than $324 million for counter-narcotics efforts, $296 million for health initiatives, $226 million for education and $1.17 billion for economic support.

 

more
Controversies:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bureau Leadership Faulted for Lack of Expertise

The United States’ insistence on supporting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf can be blamed in part on the quality of analysis coming out of the State Department. According to retired American foreign policy officials, no one with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department—a first in the department’s history. Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American drug wars; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia.
 
“They know nothing of Pakistan,” a former senior US diplomat said.
 
Reportedly, the United States’ Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. The vice president was close to Musharraf and refused to consider any criticism of the Pakistani leader. Also, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington were sent to meet Cheney’s aides rather than State Department officials.
 
Not wanting to cross Cheney, Boucher largely limited his remarks on the crisis in Pakistan to expressions of support for Musharraf. Current and retired American diplomats claimed that Boucher refused to let the State Department even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted, even though 2007 was an election year in Pakistan. Boucher also refused to meet with leading opposition figures, such as former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf exiled.
 
State Department Accused of Imposing Gag Order
In the wake of the announcement that the US was seeking to relax rules governing nuclear trade with India, critics of the proposal called on the State Department to make public its responses to Congressional questions aimed at sorting out ambiguous and contradictory statements about the deal.
 
Two former senior nonproliferation officials, Fred McGoldrick and Henry Sokolski, joined the Arms Control Association and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in demanding the State Department drop what amounted to a “gag” order on its unclassified responses to a detailed set of over 40 questions about the pending US-Indian nuclear trade deal.
 
“The administration’s responses should be made publicly available so that US and Indian lawmakers and the public can evaluate whether the draft US-Indian accord conforms to the terms and conditions established by Congress,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The administration’s unwillingness to make their answers more widely available suggests they have something to hide from either US or Indian legislators,” he said.
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, who served as deputy for nonproliferation policy under Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, agreed. “Sitting on the answers to these questions is no way to clear the air on the deal’s controversial provisions, which the Indian public is rightly worried about,” he said.
Under a 2006 law known as the Henry J. Hyde Act (PDF), Congress granted the President limited and conditional authority to waive the longstanding US legal restrictions on nuclear trade with countries, such as India, that have tested nuclear weapons, have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and do not allow comprehensive international nuclear safeguards.

 

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Founded: 2006
Annual Budget: $146.1 million
Employees: 995
Official Website: http://www.state.gov/p/sca/
Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Biswal, Nisha Desai
Assistant Secretary

President Barack Obama has nominated an Indian-American woman to be the next assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Affairs. Assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) since September 2010, Nisha Desai Biswal will be the first person of South Asian origin to head the bureau, which normally oversees relations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Because of the U.S. war, however, since 2008 relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan have been handled separately by a special U.S. Representative. If confirmed by the Senate, Biswal would succeed Robert Blake, who has served in the post since May 2009.

 

Born in 1968 in the State of Gujarat, India, Nisha Desai Biswal is the daughter of Kanu and Lata Desai, who emigrated from rural India. “As first generation immigrants, our parents journeyed far from rural India to pursue the American Dream and a better life for their children. We are grateful for their continued sacrifices on our behalf,” Biswal has said. She earned a B.A. in International Relations at the University of Virginia in 1989.

 

After working in public relations for a short time, Biswal worked for the American Red Cross from 1993 to 1995, both at the Washington, DC, headquarters and as an overseas delegate in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Shifting to government service, Biswal served at USAID from 1995 to 1999 in several capacities, including special assistant to the administrator, chief of staff in the Management Bureau and in the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, and the Office of Transition Initiatives.

 

Biswal served on the professional staff of the House International Relations Committee from 1999 to 2002, where she was responsible for South and Central Asia policy, as well as oversight of the State Department and USAID.

 

From 2002 to 2005, she served as the policy and advocacy director at InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international humanitarian and development nongovernmental organizations.

 

Returning to Capitol Hill, Biswal served from 2005 to 2010 as the majority clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, where she provided staff support regarding appropriation and oversight of the U.S. international affairs budget.

 

Biswal has been a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China since March 2011.

 

She is married to Subrat Biswal, with whom she has two daughters, Safya and Kaya.

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Obama Nominates Indian-American Nisha Biswal as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia (by Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India)

NRI Heads US State Dept’s South Asia Section (by Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times)

Indian-American Nisha Biswal Nominated for Key Post in Obama Govt (PTI)

Official Biography

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Blake, Robert
Previous Assistant Secretary

To handle U.S. interests in one of the most volatile and important regions of the world, President Barack Obama has turned to veteran diplomat Robert O. Blake, Jr., who has experience in the region and whose father was a prominent diplomat as well, serving as Ambassador to Mali from 1971 to 1973. Blake was sworn in as assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affiars on May 26, 2009. South and Central Asia includes, among other countries, current hotspots Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India. As Blake himself recently stated, “In no region of the world are the stakes higher for US national security than in South and Central Asia.” 

 
Born in 1958, Blake earned his BA from Harvard in 1980 and an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1984. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1985, and served at the American embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt. He has also held a number of positions at the State Department in Washington. In his first South Asian posting, Blake served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, from 2003 to 2006. From 2006 to 2009, he served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka, which was in the final throes of a twenty-five-year-long civil war between the Tamil Tiger separatists, who wanted an independent homeland for the island’s Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese-dominated government. Blake was criticized for his advocacy of a political solution to the conflict, which he mistakenly argued could not be resolved by force of arms. 
 
Blake’s only political donations have been to Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. In 2006, Blake donated $2,600 to Whitehouse’s successful Senatorial campaign, while in 2002 he donated $1,000 to his failed campaign for Governor. 
 
Blake and his wife, Sofia, have three daughters. 
 
U.S.-India Relations: The Making of a Comprehensive Relationship (Speech delivered at the Indian Army War College, Indore, India, August 23, 2004)
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