New Delhi: The developments in Afghanistan, with a resurgent Taliban advancing rapidly and capturing more territory to oust the elected government of President Ashraf Ghani, will be the key subject of the agenda when US secretary of state Antony Blinken holds talk with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and other Indian leaders next week.
Mr Blinken, who will be in New Delhi on July 27-28, will be on his first visit to India as secretary of state. He will meet Mr Jaishankar on July 28 and discuss a whole range of issues including Covid-19 containment measures, besides Afghanistan. India will push for an early resumption of international travel, especially easing mobility for students, business travellers and professionals, and for family reunions, humanitarian cases, etc.
The developments in Afghanistan have serious security implications for India and keeping up the pressure on Pakistan to prevent the export of terror will be among the key talking points between the two leaders.
Indian government sources said Mr Blinken’s visit will be an opportunity to consolidate bilateral cooperation across a vast agenda. Issues like augmenting trade and investment, and tapping opportunities in healthcare, education, the digital domain, innovation and security, will be key elements of the conversation. Discussions will also cover working together in the UN, especially with India holding the presidency of the UN Security Council in August 2021.
“India attaches considerable importance to the visit of Secretary Blinken and looks forward to taking forward the conversation with the US on numerous issues: bilateral, regional, addressing Covid or global developments,” the sources said.
They elaborated that on regional security situation, the implications of the US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan on terror financing and terror havens will be part of the agenda. “The latest developments in West Asia and Central Asia are also likely to be covered,” the sources said.
On defence, both sides are likely to explore ways to deepen collaboration. This will cover policy exchanges, exercises and transfers of technology in the defence sector. However, these will be covered in greater detail at the fourth 2+2 ministerial dialogue due in the US later this year. Discussions on deepening the Quad engagement will be a key focus area of talks, with the possibility of a foreign ministers’ physical Quad meeting later this year. “We will also take forward the Quad vaccine initiative to enable the supply of vaccines produced in India from early 2022 to countries in the Indo-Pacific region,” the sources added.
India will press for the gradual resumption of international travel, while maintaining health protocols, especially to ease the mobility of students, professionals, business travellers, family reunions, humanitarian cases, etc. The need for resilient supply chains of critical medicines and health care equipment is also likely to come up.
In an interview to an American TV channel, Mr Blinken hinted vaccine exports will be an important area of discussion. “I am going to India. This is such a critical country in the fight against Covid-19. The Indians stood up for us in the early days when we were having great challenges, helping to provide PPE, for example. We have now stood up for them as they have encountered wave after wave of Covid-19, including providing more than a quarter of a billion dollars of assistance to them. We have millions of vaccines ready to go to them when they finish their own legal process to bring them in. And India is the leading country when it comes to production of vaccines. Of course, they are understandably focused on their own internal challenges now, but when that production engine gets fully going and can distribute again to the rest of the world, that’s going to make a big difference too. So, I will be talking to our Indian friends about that next week,” Mr Blinken said.
Briefing the media prior to the visit, acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs Dean Thompson said during the visit to India, the US intends to discuss its efforts to support a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.
“All of Afghanistan’s neighbours and countries in the region have an interest in a peaceful, secure, and stable Afghanistan, which can only be accomplished through a negotiated political settlement that brings an end to 40 years of conflict. India, of course, is a critical partner in the region, and we welcome India’s shared commitment to peace and supporting economic development in Afghanistan,” Mr Thompson said. “We will certainly be looking at talking with our Indian partners about how we can work together to realise that goal, to find ways to bring the parties together, and continue to pursue a negotiated settlement to end the longstanding war,” he added.
The Indian sources said New Delhi will also engage with the US on other global issues. “Political and cultural rebalancing are important trends. India supports a truly multipolar, democratic and diverse world order and expects international conversations to reflect this evolution. We believe in equity and fairness, whether in development, climate change or global decision-making. Issues like human rights and democracy are universal and extend beyond a particular national or cultural perspective. India is proud of its achievements in both domains and is always glad to share experiences. As a long-standing pluralistic society, India is open to engaging those who now recognise the value of diversity,” the sources added.