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Monday, September 27, 2021

Antony Blinken: India may talk Afghanistan with Antony Blinken


India will hold a candid conversation with the US on the security implications of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan during secretary of state Antony Blinken’s two-day visit starting Tuesday as it has raised the spectre of increased Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, along with discussing other issues of mutual interest including gradual resumption of travel between the two countries.

The need for sustained pressure on Pakistan on terror financing and terrorist havens amid the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan will be on the agenda, said people aware of the matter. India fears that as the Taliban gains prominence in Kabul, Pakistan will give a new lease of life to cross-border terrorism in the country.

India will also push for easing of international travel, especially for students, professionals and businessmen, among others, while following Covid-19 protocols, said the people. It comes as several Indian Americans and non-resident Indians are stuck in India due to travel curbs in the US.

Blinken is scheduled to meet external affairs minister S Jaishankar and national security advisor Ajit Doval and call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his first trip to India as secretary of state. His visit comes after Jaishankar visited the US in May.

The two sides will also discuss efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, as part of which India is keen to ensure open and consistent supply chains for materials required for the production of coronavirus vaccines as it ramps up manufacturing for domestic use and global supplies thereafter, said those in the know. The need for resilient supply chains of critical medicines and healthcare equipment is likely to come up during the discussions, they said.

India is currently negotiating with top US vaccine suppliers for making Covid vaccines available in India.

Blinken’s visit will provide the two sides an opportunity to consolidate bilateral cooperation in several key areas, said highly placed officials, adding that issues such as augmenting trade and investment, and tapping opportunities in healthcare, education, digital domain, innovation and security will be important elements of the conversation.

Discussions on defence cooperation will cover policy exchanges, exercises, and defence transfers and technologies, they said. These will be covered in greater detail during the fourth 2+2 ministerial dialogue due in the US later this year.

Deepening Quad engagement will be a key focus area of the talks, with the possibility of a foreign ministerial Quad meeting later this year, said the people. The discussions will also take forward Quad vaccine initiative to enable supply of vaccines produced in India from early 2022 to countries in the Indo-Pacific.

The two sides will also exchange assessments on the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on Covid-19 assistance, economic slowdown and security scenario. The latest developments pertaining to West Asia and Central Asia are also likely to be covered.

The US secretary of state’s visit is expected to prepare for the maiden physical summit of the Quad leadership as well as Modi’s proposed visit to the US later this year.

Climate change will be part of the agenda as well, particularly potential for green collaboration as well as climate finance and transfer of clean technologies to developing countries.

Discussions will also cover working together in the United Nations, especially with India holding the presidency of the UN Security Council in August.



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