Afghanistan to be key issue during Blinken’s India visit

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Blinken is the third high-ranking official of the Biden administration to travel to India after defence secretary Lloyd Austin in March and special envoy for climate change John Kerry in April, reports Asian Lite News

The situation in Afghanistan and a coordinated Covid-19 response will be key issues on the agenda for US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s engagements with Indian interlocutors during his two-day visit beginning on Tuesday.

The Indian side has also indicated that it is prepared to engage with the US on issues such as human rights and democracy, which American officials have said Blinken intends to raise during his maiden visit to New Delhi after assuming office earlier this year.

Blinken is the third high-ranking official of the Biden administration to travel to India after defence secretary Lloyd Austin in March and special envoy for climate change John Kerry in April. He will meet external affairs minister S Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday before travelling to Kuwait on the next leg of his tour.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Monday that the security situation in Afghanistan will be a key issue during Blinken’s visit as the Indian side believes US support for Afghan forces over the next few months will be crucial for retaining the gains made under the democratic system in Kabul over the past 20 years.

The Taliban stepped up its campaign to capture territory across Afghanistan once the US made it clear that it intended to complete the drawdown of its troops by next month. The US is keen on some sort of power-sharing arrangement in Kabul after facing criticism from some quarters for the nature of its withdrawal.

The Indian side, on the other hand, is expected to raise the implications of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan over terror financing and terrorist sanctuaries, the people cited above said.

A coordinated Covid-19 response, including open and consistent supply chains for materials and items required for producing vaccines, will figure in the discussions in line with India’s plans to ramp up production for both domestic vaccination and subsequent global supplies, the people said.

Further engagements under the rubric of the Indo-Pacific, including a possible meeting of Quad foreign ministers, an in-person Quad Summit and the Quad vaccine partnership, and bilateral contacts such as the 2+2 meeting of defence and foreign ministers are also expected to figure in the discussions.

Blinken’s visit is an opportunity to “continue the high-level bilateral dialogue and bolster the India-US global strategic partnership”, the external affairs ministry said last week while announcing the visit. “Both sides will review the robust and multifaceted India-US bilateral relations, and potential for consolidating them further,” it added.

India, Pakistan ties

Just before the all-important visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to India and other destinations of South Asia and the Middle East, the US has issued a statement, encouraging arch-rivals India and Pakistan to work for a more stable relationship.

As per Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs Dean Thompson, Blinken would be discussing different options for what he called a “negotiated settlement” in Afghanistan.

“We strongly believe that India and Pakistan’s issues are ones for them to work out between themselves. Washington would continue to encourage better ties between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed neighbours,” said Thompson.

India Pak Flags (ANI)

“We are pleased to see that ceasefire that went into place earlier this year has remained intact, and we certainly always encourage them to continue their efforts to find ways to build a more stable relationship going forward,” he added.

The US played an important role in engaging both Pakistan and India to come down to an agreement and abide by the 2003 ceasefire after backdoor meeting between top military leadership of both countries in the Middle East.

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