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'Time for separate India office at US state dept'

July 22, 2011 10:04 IST

With the rapid expansion of India-US ties, which are expected to deepen in the coming years, it is time to upgrade the India desk at the South and Central Asia Bureau of the State Department to a full fledged India Office, an official report has said.

In its latest report, the State Department's Inspector General has also recommended the reunion of the South and Central Asia Bureau with that office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan that was carved out when US President Barack Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke as his point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But, such a move only created duplicity, it said. Currently the India desk is combined with the desks for five other countries, including Bangladesh.

But, the report said it is the practice of the Department of State to provide a separate office for the countries with which the United States has robust, complex relationships.

"Nations of comparable importance and with important bilateral relationships, such as China (including Mongolia), Russia, Cuba, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, have their own offices," it said.

The Inspector General concluded that time has come to give serious consideration to creating a separate office for India and Bhutan, alongside a separate office for the other countries in SCA/INSB office.

"Over the last 15 years, the US relationship with India has both expanded and deepened, but no action has been taken to adjust the design of organisational units to accommodate the changed situation," it pointed out.

"Currently, no single office director is focused entirely on the goal of expanding the relationship with India, despite this goal's priority in US foreign policy. The office director must deal with five other countries, whose relationships with the US are also complex," the report said.

Making a case for the reunion of the South and Central Asia Bureau with that Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the report said communications between the two branches have not been as effective as they could be.

"With a likely transition of the (Afghanistan and Pakistan) desks and other S/SRAP responsibilities back to SCA in the next several years, SCA needs to begin to be more broadly engaged in or aware of S/SRAP programmes and activities that it may inherit at that time," it said.

When the global repositioning exercise was conducted from 2005 to 2007, US embassies in India and other Asian countries gained positions, but SCA did not receive adequate corresponding increases.

Increased work in the embassies has created more work in SCA/INSB, but the Bureau of Human Resources did not authorise new positions for the desk to accommodate this factor, the report said.

In middle of 2009, when a new Assistant Secretary arrived, there were only two officers to conduct the business of the India desk, it said.

"The office director spends about three quarters of his time on Indian affairs, and the deputy office director and secretary spend half of their time on Indian affairs."

"In comparison, offices for such countries as China and Mongolia, Korea, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have staffs in the range of 15 to 25 employees. Workload for Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Maldives has also increased, particularly since the Department has sought to deepen the US relationship with Bangladesh," it said.

The staffing for the entire office comes to a total of a total of 21.5 employees, including part timers and the non-full-time equivalent positions are vulnerable to cuts, the report said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington, DC
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