The United States and India reaffirmed their commitment to deepening their security partnership during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to New Delhi.
Ties between the two countries have steadily improved amid mutual concerns about China’s growing influence.
“There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than one between the U.S. and India,” Blinken said at a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
The top diplomats of both countries also stressed the need for a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Blinken said that reports in the last week of “atrocities” committed by the Taliban “are deeply troubling” and do not speak well of the Taliban’s intentions for the country.
He warned that “an Afghanistan that does not respect the rights of its people will become a pariah state.”
Saying that the United States remains engaged in Afghanistan and is working to bring parties together to resolve the conflict, he stressed the need for all sides to take negotiations seriously.
“The Taliban says it seeks international recognition, that it wants international support for Afghanistan. Presumably it wants its leaders to be able to travel freely in the world, sanctions lifted,” Blinken said. “Well, taking over the country by force and abusing the rights of its people is not the path to achieve those objectives. There is only one path, and that is at the negotiating table.”
For Indian officials, the situation in Afghanistan remains a top concern. As American forces withdraw from the country, they fear it could be used by terrorist groups if the Taliban gain control. “The outcome in Afghanistan should not be decided on the battlefield,” said India’s foreign minister.
The two sides also discussed the Quad alliance, a security group that consists of India, the U.S., Japan and Australia, which has been denounced by Beijing as a military alliance meant to contain China.
Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar, however, said that it “is not strange” for groups of countries to work together. “People need to get over the idea that somehow other countries doing things is directed against them.”
Blinken also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his stop in New Delhi. “I welcome President Joe Biden’s strong commitment to strengthen the India-U.S. strategic partnership, which is anchored in our shared democratic values and is a force for global good,” Modi said after the meeting.
One of the significant meetings held by Blinken in New Delhi was with Ngodup Dongchung, a representative of the Tibetan government in exile. The meeting will be seen as a signal of the Biden administration’s support to the Tibetan cause and could irk China, which frowns upon meetings with representatives of the Dalai Lama.
As critics accuse Modi’s government of rights violations, the issue of human rights also figured during Blinken’s visit.
At a meeting with civil society members in a New Delhi hotel, Blinken spoke about the need to protect democracy and human rights. “We believe that all people deserve to have a voice in their government, to be treated with respect, no matter who they are. These are fundamental tenets of democracies like ours.”
Underscoring the importance of democratic values at his news conference, he said that India’s democracy, like that of the United States, was powered by its “free-thinking citizens.”
But taking what some analysts called a soft approach to the issue, he also noted that every democracy was a “work in progress” and said that “when we discuss these issues, I certainly do it from a starting point of humility.”
Critics accuse Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of suppressing dissent and pursuing divisive policies that discriminate against Muslims, the country’s biggest minority. They say civil liberties in the country have shrunk, allegations the government denies.
Blinken also pledged $25 million for India’s vaccine drive and said that both countries will work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. secretary of state’s visit was the second by a senior official of the Biden administration to India â€” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited in March.