WASHINGTON: Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas L. Vajda will look after South Asian affairs at the US State Department when current chief diplomat for the region, Alice G. Wells, retires on May 22, the department confirmed on Monday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the change in a tweet on Sunday afternoon, saying: “I will miss Alice’s wise counsel and dedicated efforts to build relationships and address challenges across South and Central Asia.”
“I personally came to admire Ambassador Wells’ dedication to our team’s mission and her dogged pursuit of American excellence. We commend her service and wish her the best,” he wrote.
In a message to Dawn, the State Department confirmed that Ms Wells would retire on May 22 and Mr Vajda “will serve as the South and Central Asian Bureau’s senior bureau official on an interim basis.”
“In her current role, Ambassador Wells has been instrumental in strengthening diplomatic and economic relationships across the region and navigating challenging international crises,” the department added.
Ms Wells, a career diplomat, has served as an acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia for most of the period of Trump administration. During her 31-year association with the State Department, Ms Wells also served as a political officer at the US embassies in both New Delhi and Islamabad.
Mr Vajda’s résumé, posted on the State Department’s website, shows that he was the US Consul General in Mumbai from 2014 to 2017 but he never served in Pakistan.
As deputy assistant secretary for South Asia, Mr Vajda oversees US policy towards India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan. His duties do not include Pakistan.
Ms Wells, however, remained engaged with Pakistan earlier in her career and also as the chief US diplomat for South Asia. In a tweet on the World Press Freedom Day, Ms Wells remembered slain US journalist Daniel Pearl and also noted Pakistan’s decision to seek a guilty verdict against his killers.
“We appreciate the government of Pakistan’s April 22 appeal to reinstate guilty verdicts against Daniel’s murderers, now buttressed by the filing of the Pearl family’s appeal before the Supreme Court,” she wrote.
US President Donald Trump called for a close relationship with India soon after his election in 2016 and bonded with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including on a visit to the country in February. His relations with Pakistan also improved markedly after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Washington in July last year. The ties strengthened further after Pakistan helped the Trump administration negotiate a deal with the Taliban.
Mr Trump reiterated his desire to stay engaged with Pakistan in a telephone conversation with Mr Khan late last month. Yet, he never strengthened the South Asian bureau at the State Department.
Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2020