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NSC gets a new South Asia director, filling out administration’s India team

The Cable has confirmed that Michael Newbill will join the National Security Council as a director for South Asia, finally completing the U.S. administration’s India policy team less than three months before President Barack Obama’s first visit there. Newbill, a well-respected Foreign Service officer, has been serving as the chief political and economics officer at ...

565248_100827_Mr-Michael-Newbill2.gif
565248_100827_Mr-Michael-Newbill2.gif

The Cable has confirmed that Michael Newbill will join the National Security Council as a director for South Asia, finally completing the U.S. administration's India policy team less than three months before President Barack Obama's first visit there.

Newbill, a well-respected Foreign Service officer, has been serving as the chief political and economics officer at the U.S. consulate in Mumbai. He started out as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, then went on to join the Foreign Service and serve in the Philippines, Thailand, and Washington (on the State Department's India desk).

Once Newbill is in place, the India policy team at the NSC and State will be fully staffed for the first time in this administration. Yesterday, we reported that McLarty Associates' South Asia director Alyssa Ayres will join the State Department as the new deputy assistant secretary for South Asia, covering India. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Geoff Pyatt was added only a few months ago, after the post had been vacant for about a year. Anish Goel was officially named NSC senior director for South Asia in January, after serving as "acting" senior director following the departure of Don Camp.

The Cable has confirmed that Michael Newbill will join the National Security Council as a director for South Asia, finally completing the U.S. administration’s India policy team less than three months before President Barack Obama’s first visit there.

Newbill, a well-respected Foreign Service officer, has been serving as the chief political and economics officer at the U.S. consulate in Mumbai. He started out as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, then went on to join the Foreign Service and serve in the Philippines, Thailand, and Washington (on the State Department’s India desk).

Once Newbill is in place, the India policy team at the NSC and State will be fully staffed for the first time in this administration. Yesterday, we reported that McLarty Associates’ South Asia director Alyssa Ayres will join the State Department as the new deputy assistant secretary for South Asia, covering India. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Geoff Pyatt was added only a few months ago, after the post had been vacant for about a year. Anish Goel was officially named NSC senior director for South Asia in January, after serving as “acting” senior director following the departure of Don Camp.

South Asia hands praised the selection.

“It’s great that the administration has a full team in place now to work on policy towards India, but as many India watchers in Washington have already noted, it’s a pity that it has taken so long,” said Dhruva Jaishankar, Asia program officer at the German Marshall Fund.

Experts also remain concerned that the government is not sufficiently coordinating its India policy with its Pakistan and Afghanistan policy. Jaishankar noted the “lingering concerns of structural and bureaucratic walls at DoD, State, and the NSC” that prevent U.S. policy in India and Pakistan from working in harmony.

At State, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke commands all things Af-Pak, taking those issues away from Assistant Secretary Robert Blake and leaving him India and the rest of South Asia. (Holbrooke wanted India to be part of his portfolio, but the Indians vigorously protested that idea.)

Over at the NSC, the Pakistan shop is run by a Bush holdover, retired Lt. Gen. Doug Lute. He reports up to Dennis Ross, who oversees an enormous swath of the map termed the “Central Region.” Goel, the NSC South Asia director, does not handle Pakistan but also reports up to Ross, we’re told. Newbill will join a team that includes Stuart Seldowitz, the other South Asia director under Goel, whose portfolio doesn’t include Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Many South Asia expects believe that the split responsibilities inside the administration bode poorly for any effort to encourage a warming of relations between India and Pakistan — to the great disappointment of Pakistan, which would like to see Washington put pressure on India over Kashmir. Experts also see the bureaucratic separation between Af-Pak and India as limiting the U.S. ability to deal with India’s involvement in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has so far resisted Pakistani requests to link its India policy more closely with its Afghanistan and Pakistan policymaking, out of respect for India’s views on the matter.

However, there are signs that this may be changing as well. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that President Obama issued a secret directive to his top advisors, ordering them to explore ways for the United States to push forward India-Pakistan relations. The debate over exactly how to do that continues to this day.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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