After 4-year gap, nomination made for top US diplomat for South Asia

After a gap of four years, the US State Department is to get an Assistant Secretary of State for the South Asia region if President Joe Biden’s nomination of Donald Lu goes through the Senate.

During the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency the job of the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia went vacant and was managed by two successive diplomats in acting capacities.

The White House on Friday announced the nomination of Lu, the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, to the post.

A career diplomat, Lu has been deputy chief of the US embassy in Delhi and also has served in Pakistan.

Indian American Nisha Desai Biswal, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, was the last Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. She quit after Trump became president in 2017 and went on to become the president of the US India Business Council.

Trump did not nominate anyone to the post during his four years, even though Elliot Engel, who was the chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee during his presidency, and other members of the Congress had asked him to appoint a senior diplomat for the region.

Alice Wells, who was formally the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the region, took on the responsibility of Acting Assistant Secretary of State for most of Trump’s presidency till she quit last June. During her tenure, Wells managed the development of close ties with India under Trump’s pivot to Asia.

The portfolio of the region’s Assistant Secretary of State consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Lu moves in as the US gets ready to pull its troops out of Afghanistan and Biden shifts focus to China as the main US adversary, with expectations of India playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific region.

In his nearly 30 years as a diplomat, he has been the ambassador to Albania, charge d’affaires at the embassy in Azerbaijan and deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Central Asian and South Caucasus Affairs.

He also has experience of handling a health emergency having worked on the Ebola crisis in West Africa as Deputy Coordinator for Ebola Response in the State Department.

Before joining the State Department he had volunteered with the US Peace Corps in Sierra Leone.

(Arul Louis can be reached at and followed @arulouis)