Nisha Desai Biswal becomes first Indian-American point person for South Asia

As Nisha Desai Biswal became Washington’s first point person for South Asia, she vowed to “do everything possible to bridge from the Asia we see today to the Asia that we know is possible tomorrow”.

“My parents and my in-laws lived the classic immigrant experience as they left India in search of opportunity,” recalled Biswal as she was formally sworn into her new position Thursday as the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.

“And in so doing, they fulfilled their dreams and found that their dreams are the American dream, and their experience is the American experience,” she said.

Before her appointment to the new position, Biswal was assistant administrator for Asia at the US Agency for International Development, which is headed by Rajiv Shah, the highest-ranking Indian American in the Obama administration, for the last three years.

“From throughout my childhood and throughout my life, I have sought the opportunity to serve my country, the United States of America, in the way that my grandparents, who were freedom fighters in India, served their country and to be part of something that is greater than myself,” Biswal said.

“It is indeed a high honour to represent the United States and to lead our engagement with such a vital region that is shaping global politics and economics for the 21st century,” she said.

Introducing Biswal, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Nisha’s experience and the success that so many Indian Americans bring to the American table shows to everybody in the world the deep ties that we have between the United States and India.”

“And I know that we’re going to unlock the enormous potential of stronger economic, security, and cultural ties between our countries,” he said.

“Think about the message that we’re sending today, which I am excited about,” said Kerry: “The story of a woman who left a small town in India at age six to come to America and now becomes one of the most important leaders in the Department of State.”

“It’s a great story; it’s the American story,” he said. “And it’s proof of the power of the American journey. It helps capture how in every generation, immigrants revitalize America and renew us and help to remind us of our common roots and then go on to write the next chapter of American history.”

Although there have been several other Indian Americans at the assistant secretary level, Bobby Jindal, Richard Varma, Karan Bhatia and Suresh Kumar among them, this is the first time an Indian American is heading the South Asia bureau.