Blinken pulls India closer as challenges mount in Afghan, China

New Delhi: America  will give India $25 million to vaccinate against coronavirus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced during his India visit as part of the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen diplomatic ties with a partner located in the United States’ main geopolitical challenges, Afghanistan and China.

Calling India-US ties one of the “most consequential” in the world, Blinken described the two nations in agreement on the urgent need to find a peaceful solution to the Afghan imbroglio as well as to strengthen the Quad, the 4-nation group led by Washington to counter Beijing’s influence in Indo-Pacific region.

Joined by foreign minister S. Jaishankar, Blinken addressed the media Wednesday to reiterate a commitment to expand the Quad partnership, which also includes Australia and Japan, to cover broader, nonmilitary issues such as infrastructure development, coronavirus vaccine distribution and climate change.

“Both the range and intensity of U.S.-India cooperation are unprecedented,” said C. Raja Mohan, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, Washington Post reported. “At a time when India’s own relationship with China is one of the worst ever, that’s opened up space for a huge amount of cooperation.”

On Afghanistan though, India has been less enthusiastic about the U.S. pullout.  New Delhi is worried about the possibility of a full military takeover by the Taliban, which it views as a proxy force controlled by  Pakistan. It has also warned about the prospect of extremists flowing back into Afghanistan, where they could launch attacks against India. The Taliban has made swift gains in recent weeks and controls about half of Afghanistan’s districts.

“It is natural, inevitable, that if the United States, which for the last 20 years had a robust military presence, [withdraws], then there will be consequences,” Jaishankar told reporters. “What’s done is done. But we do not think the outcome should be determined by force on the battleground.”

Indian officials say sustained U.S. airstrikes over the next four months — beyond the Aug. 31 deadline for a full withdrawal set by President Biden — could prevent the scenario they fear of the Taliban overrunning the country. But Indian officials have also recently said they have spoken with Taliban representatives, in a departure from India’s traditional wariness about the group and an acknowledgment that it could play a major role in Afghanistan’s governance.

Blinken assured that the United States will remain “very much engaged in Afghanistan,” including on the security front.

Earlier Wednesday, Blinken visited with civil society leaders in New Delhi, including a Tibetan leader closely associated with the Dalai Lama, which riled China. “At a time of rising global threats to democracy and international freedoms — we talk about a democratic recession — it’s vital that we two world’s leading democracies continue to stand together in support of these ideals,” Blinken said.

There was talk of Blinken bringing up the human rights issue in India under the current regime. But he was mild in his criticism, “We view Indian democracy as a force for good in defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific. We also recognize that every democracy, starting with our own, is a work in progress.”

Calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Blinken appreciated the increasing convergence between India and US on a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues, and the commitment of both strategic partners to convert this convergence into concrete and practical cooperation.

PM Modi said that the societies of US and India share a deep commitment to the values of democracy, freedom and liberty, and the Indian diaspora in the US has contributed immensely to the enhancement of bilateral ties.

Image courtesy of (Photo PIB)

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