INDIA AND the US have come “closer than ever before” on the situation in Afghanistan with both sides agreeing that violence or a power-grab will not lead to stability there.
This was one of the key takeaways from visiting US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken’s meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, The Indian Express has learnt.
However, against the background of the Government’s confrontation with Big Tech, the US side did make a case for India to support the ideals of “international freedoms”. But there was a “gentle pushback” from the Indian delegation during the two-hour meeting on Wednesday.
On the issue of human rights and civil liberties, sources said the Indian message was: “don’t come into my polity and judge me”.
The Indian side conveyed that both countries are dealing with historical issues — the US polity with systemic racial tension, and India with the situation in Kashmir. “There are historical wrongs that are being made right,” the Indian side told Blinken’s delegation, referring to the abrogation of Article 370.
On the face-off with Big Tech, The Indian Express has learnt that the Indian side conveyed that the US is also dealing with fake news on social media, and pointed to US President Joe Biden’s recent comment that the spread of Covid misinformation is “killing people”. Biden was responding to a question about the alleged role of “platforms like Facebook” in spreading falsehoods about vaccines and the pandemic.
The Indian side said both governments are dealing with similar challenges on Facebook, and that it wants Washington to “look at the big picture”, and support New Delhi in its fight against fake news. Sources said the White House has been increasing pressure on social media companies to tackle disinformation.
On fundamental freedoms, India made the point that “freedom is not anarchy”, and should not be “mixed up” with lack of governance and poor governance.
Despite the “gentle pushback” on some issues, sources said there was considerable convergence on Afghanistan and the Taliban’s actions over the past few months.
The US side, sources said, assessed that violence is not the route to stability in Afghanistan, and that was reflected in Blinken’s statements after the meetings with NSA Ajit Doval and Jaishankar.
The Indian side shared its assessment, with the US delegation agreeing that the Taliban’s atrocities and rapid advance towards major cities is “very concerning”.
Sources pointed to identical statements from Jaishankar and Blinken in their post-discussion briefing.
Blinken had said: “An Afghanistan that does not respect the rights of its people, an Afghanistan that commits atrocities against its own people, would become a pariah state… taking over the country by force and abusing the rights of its people is not the path to achieve those objectives.”
Jaishankar had said: “We don’t think that the outcome should be decided by force on the battlefield. We think the peace negotiations should be a negotiation and should lead to peace.”
However, both countries did not appear to be on the same track on Pakistan, at least in public.
While Jaishankar said Afghanistan’s independence and sovereignty will only be ensured “if it is free from malign influences”, the US Secretary was silent on Pakistan’s role.
However, sources pointed to Blinken’s comments that “any future government in Afghanistan has to be inclusive and fully representative of the Afghan people. But ultimately, this has to be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process that we will all support.” This has been India’s bottomline for years now, and Delhi is “pleased” that Washington’s interlocutors are finally on the same page.
Delhi also feels that the Biden administration — by putting the Quad grouping of nations at the centrepiece of its Indo-Pacific strategy — has re-established India’s strategic position in the region. From that perspective, sources said, Blinken’s visit was a key signal to China.
A senior functionary said, “Blinken didn’t come here to pick a fight…he made his points, but after listening to us, he understood where we were coming from, and struck the right note outside closed doors.”