Afghanistan, China, Quad and human rights: Key issues likely on Blinken, Jaishankar's agenda today

·5 min read

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on a two-day visit in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Much has already been said about the topics that are likely to be discussed between Blinken and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar (the two will be meeting for the fourth time since May) on Wednesday and later about his meet National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Blinken will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi before leaving for Kuwait as part of his two-nation tour.

What makes Blinken's two-day visit crucial is the recent geopolitical changes under which the meeting is being held.

There are matters related to bilateral cooperation, including augmenting trade and investment, and tapping opportunities in healthcare, education, digital domain, innovation, and security. COVID-19 and its impact on people's mobility and global supply chains as well as India's recent track records in human rights are also likely to be on the table.

Let's take a look at some of the key issues on the table:

Afghanistan

Blinken's two-day visit to India has garnered a lot of attention especially since it has come amidst US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has ramifications on India's own security.

While India is likely to bring up its concerns towards regional security, it may also seek US help in keeping up the pressure on Pakistan to give up support to terrorism.

As for the US, as Dean Thompson, the acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, recently told AP, Blinken will seek India's support in stabilising Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal is completed at the end of August.

"We expect that all the countries in the region have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan going forward and so, we will certainly be looking at talking with our Indian partners about how we can work together to realize that goal," the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia had told reporters.

Indo-Pacific, China and the Quad

Then there's the matter of Indo-Pacific security, China's growing assertiveness and the Quad as a possible response to that. While the Joe Biden administration has indicated it wants a more civil relationship with Beijing, its shown no sign of softening the Trump administration's confrontational measures on trade, technology and human rights.

Over the last few years, the ties between India and US have improved, particularly in terms of their shared interests regarding a rising China. They have steadily ramped up their military relationship and signed a string of defence deals and deepened military cooperation. Washington sees India as a key partner in efforts to blunt increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. The Blinken-Jaishankar and Blinken-Doval meets are likely to delve deeply into these topics.

The Quad: Both India and US are part of the Quad or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic forum which also includes Japan and Australia. Amidst the growing US-China animosity, the Quad -- posited as a possible "Asian NATO" by Beijing -- has emerged as a significant force for the US and its allies in maintaining Indo-Paficic security and countering Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Ahead of Blinken's visit, Thompson didn't mince any words in highlighting the importance that Biden administration places to the Quad and the US-India partnership.

"We're going to continue pursuing our global comprehensive strategic partnership, and I think by the virtue of the President (Joe Biden) making the Quad and our partnership with India very high priorities right at the outset of this administration, it sets the tone for what we think we can achieve and accomplish with them," he said.

It's to be noted that Blinken's meeting comes just days after his No 2 diplomat, Wendy Sherman, was in China for face-to-face talks.

As for India's Ministry of External Affairs, it said last week that Blinken's visit "is an opportunity to continue the high-level bilateral dialogue and bolster the India-US global strategic partnership."

After Biden's virtual Quad summit earlier this year, Blinken is also hoping to arrange an in-person meeting by the end of the year.

India's human rights record

Another importat topic that emerged from Thomson's comments last week is that Blinken is also likely to bring up India's human rights record.

India has been accused of routinely denying criticism of its human rights record and has rejected criticism by foreign governments and rights groups that say civil liberties have shrunk in the country.

Global supply chains, COVID-19 essentials

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth a need to build resilient supply chains. The need was highlighted last year as nations around the world locked borders, curtailed movement of people and goods to contain the spread of the pandemic.

According to a Mint report, "the need for resilient supply chains of critical medicines and healthcare equipment" is likely to be another major topic of discussion during Blinken-Jaishankar meet on Wednesday.

According to the report, India will also press for "gradual resumption of international travel, while maintaining health protocols, especially easing mobility of students, professionals, business travelers, family reunions, and humanitarian cases", the report said, quoting people familiar with the meeting.

With inputs from AP

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