In the wake of the disastrous pullout of US troops from Afghanistan, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla met several senior officials in Washington to discuss the situation in the war-torn nation.
The roster of officials Shringla met over Thursday and Friday and discussed the Afghanistan situation included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
The meetings came amid unease among US partners and allies over the American retreat from Afghanistan and the chaos it has left behind.
Amid the uncertainties, Colin Kahl, the Undersecretary of Defence, reaffirmed at their meeting on Friday that “the strength of the defence relationship between the US and India”, which is the only designated US major defence partner, Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon said.
Pahon said that Shringla and Kahl “underscored their commitment to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation to sustain a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific regiona¿ and “a range of regional issues of shared interest”.
Defence cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean region, which stretches to Africa also figured in their talks, he added.
India and the US share fears and dilemmas over the capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban, which has had a hostile relationship with the two countries, and the shifts in the strategic situation that could potentially further China’s and Pakistan’s objectives in the region.
Shringla and Blinken reviewed the developments in Afghanistan when they met on Thursday, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted.
They also discussed the Indo-Pacific region, Covid-19 pandemic and discussed cooperation at the UN, where India is an elected member, and other regional and multilateral issues, the tweet said.
Sherman tweeted after her meeting with Shringla that she met him “to discuss shared priorities including coordination on Afghanistan, strengthening Indo-Pacific cooperation via the Quad, and addressing the climate crisis and the Covid-19”.
Bagchi said in a tweet that Shringla also met the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) and the US-India Business Council.
He spoke to the USISPF on India’s economic recovery, the pandemic situation and measures to facilitate investments into India, Bagchi said in another tweet.
On Thursday, other senior Indian and US defence and diplomatic officials discussed the recent developments in the region and cooperation in counter-terrorism at a meeting that is regularly scheduled between the 2+2 ministerial-level meeting.
The Indian side at the dialogue was led by the Defence Ministry’s Joint Secretary, International Cooperation, Somnath Ghosh, and the External Affairs Ministry’s Joint Secretary, Americas, Vani Rao, and the US side by Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Affairs Ratner, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Ervin Massinga.
At the meeting, “Ratner expressed his confidence that the United States and India will continue to take their partnership to new heights as they jointly meet the challenges of this century”, Defence Department spokesperson Lt Col Martin Meiners said.
“Cooperation in new domains, such as space, cyber, and emerging technology areas” also figured in their talks, Meiners said.
The last 2+2 ministerial dialogue was held in New Delhi in October 2020 just before the US elections.
The US was represented by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper, both of whom are now out of office, and India by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The next 2+2 is to be held later this year in Washington.