Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal cancels trip to India over Khobragade issue

Diplomatic mess deepens between India, US.

By Deepak Chitnis

Nisha Desai Biswal

WASHINGTON, DC: Just as things were starting to look positive between the US and India, Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal has postponed her first official visit to India since taking office last month, citing the perilous situation between the two countries over the Deyyani Khobragade issue as the main factor in making the decision not to go.

Biswal was scheduled to arrive in India on Monday, January 6. The State Department has said that Biswal may end up going one week later, on January 13, but nothing definitive has been scheduled as of yet.

Kerry called Biswal’s new jurisdiction “one of the most complex, dynamic regions of the world” during her inauguration, saying that Biswal’s appointment was evidence of the US being “invested in that region’s prosperity for the long haul.”

The sudden reluctance to visit India comes amidst steps taken by the governments of both countries towards improving ties before more irrevocable damage can be done. While India has taken measures to cozy up to the US, the latter seems to be reciprocating as well, with the State Department now trying to distance itself from Khobragade’s legal entanglements as much as possible, and saying it’s their job to further bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

A State Department spokesperson indicated that the legal and diplomatic procedures are two entirely different aspects of the case, saying that the legal proceedings were under the purview of the Justice Department and Southern District of New York, while diplomatic relations were the responsibility of the Department of State.

The State Department is apparently keen to re-establish friendly relations with India and move forward, full steam ahead. Putting the Khobragade case behind them would allow India and the US to re-open important diplomatic talks and move the relationship in a positive direction.

Dr. Devyani Khobragade
Dr. Devyani Khobragade

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to India Frank Wisner, in an interview to the Press Trust of India called the Khobragade fiasco “a storm [that] has temporarily blown us off course.” Calling the situation “regrettable,” Wisner laid the blame for the diplomatic row equally at the feet of the US and India.

Wisner said that the US mishandled the arrest and treatment of Khobragade, while India reacted too emotionally, acting with their heart rather than their head. The combination of those two things created a maelstrom that both countries are still working to resolve three weeks later.

The general consensus among sources seems to be that India and the US will get back on track sooner rather than later, but it’s difficult to put a firm timetable on anything. Until Khobragade has her day in court and the matter is either prosecuted or dropped, everyone will just have to hold their breath, wait and watch.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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