US South Asia official visiting New Delhi amid rising tensions (Lead, changing dateline)

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New York, July 28 (IANS) The top United States official in charge of South Asia is scheduled to visit New Delhi amid rising tensions in the region, the State Department announced Friday.

Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, is to start her 10-day visit to New Delhi and Islamabad on Sunday during which she is to “meet with government officials, thought leaders, and business executives to discuss U.S. relations with the region”, a department statement said.

The department described the visit as an “introductory trip to the region” for Wells, who took interim charge of the South and Central Asia portfolio in the State Department last month following the resignation of Nisha Desai Biswal, an appointee of former President Barack Obama.

Her visit comes during a time of rising tensions between India and China with a standoff between their troops in the Doklam region of Bhutan, where Beijing is trying to build a road in Thimpu’s territory, and heated rhetoric from China’s official media.

Meanwhile, the democratically elected government in Afghanistan is facing increasing violence from extremists, some of whom, Kabul has asserted, are backed by elements in Islamabad.

Wells also has the additional position of Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This position was downgraded last month when Laurel Miller quit the job and it was made a part of the State Department’s Bureau of South and central Asian Affairs.

In Pakistan, Wells will confront political uncertainty following the Supreme Court ruling unseating Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Wells is a career foreign service officer and she was the Ambassador to Jordan before her interim South Asia appointment.

She has done stints as an executive assistant to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State and as a Special Assistant to Obama for Russia and Central Asia.

The administration of President Donald Trump, which has a huge backlog of diplomatic assignments to fill, has not nominated a permanent appointee for Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, a position that requires Senate approval.

It took more than six months for the administration to even name Wells to the acting position.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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