Updated: September 25, 2021 7:15:29 am
IN HER first meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US Vice-President Kamala Harris on Friday suo motu referred to terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and asked India’s neighbour to ensure that these groups do not impact the security of the US and India, said Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
The Foreign Secretary, who was part of the talks between Modi and Harris, said she also agreed with the Prime Minister on the “need to rein in and closely monitor Pakistan’s support for… terrorist groups”.
This is the first time since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan that a top US government leader has conveyed to the top Indian leadership their perception of Pakistan’s role in terrorism.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had told the US Congress that Pakistan has a “multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict with ours”, and that the US will be looking at its relationship with Pakistan in the coming weeks to decide what role Washington would want it to play in the future of Afghanistan.
But Harris’s words, as articulated by the Foreign Secretary, are much stronger in tone and tenor.
Responding to questions on the nature of discussions at the meeting, Shringla said, “…when the issue of terrorism came up, the Vice President suo motu referred to Pakistan’s role in that regard. She said that there were terror groups that were working there. She asked Pakistan to take action, so that these groups do not impact US security and that of India.
Shringla said Harris agreed with the Prime Minister’s briefing on the issue of cross-border terrorism and the fact that India has been a victim of terrorism for several decades.
This was Modi’s first meeting with Harris, in her official capacity as the Vice-President of the country. The one-on-one meeting was followed by delegation-level talks which had the top brass — NSA Ajit Doval, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Shringla and India’s ambassador to US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, among others. That such a high-level delegation accompanied the PM signifies the importance the Indian establishment gave to the meeting with the first Indian-origin Vice President. Such high-level accompanying delegations are usually reserved for presidents and prime ministers.
Before the meeting started, Modi told Harris, “You are the source of inspiration for so many people across the world. I am completely confident that our bilateral relationship will touch new heights under President Biden and your leadership.”
“Both President Biden and you assumed office at a time when our planet faced very tough challenges. In a short time, you have had many achievements to your credit, be it COVID-19, climate change or the Quad,” Modi said.
The US Vice-President — known for her views on democracy and human rights — told Modi that it is incumbent on the two nations to protect democracies in the best interests of people of the two countries.
“As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world. And that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home and it is incumbent on our nations to of course protect democracies in the best interests of people of our countries,” she said.
“I know from personal experience, and from my family, of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy,” she said, “and the work that needs to be done [so that] we can begin to imagine, and then actually achieve, our vision for democratic principles and institutions.”
This was seen by many as a gentle nudge by Harris, in public, on the issue of democracy — a theme closer to the heart of the Democratic establishment as against the Donald Trump administration which did not press India on the issue of human rights.
Shringla, when asked about the Vice President’s comments on democracy, said, “In the discussions, I think she did mention that the US Congress was highly appreciative and kept noting the fact that India and the United States represented the two largest democracies. There was a great deal of appreciation of how both our democracies function.”
Modi, who spoke after Harris, after listening to her carefully, however, did not respond to these issues and spoke highly of the US Vice-President’s telephone call “full of sensitivity” to him in June this year. “One of our interactions happened when India was battling a very tough wave of COVID-19 infections. I recall your kind words of solidarity that time,” Modi said.
Both leaders acknowledged the vibrant people-to-people linkages as the bedrock of the mutually beneficial education linkages and the flow of knowledge, innovation and talent between our two countries.
Harris described India as a “very important partner” to the US and welcomed New Delhi’s announcement that it will soon resume vaccine export.
The two leaders discussed the COVID-19 situation in their countries, including ongoing efforts to contain the pandemic through expedited vaccination efforts, and ensuring supply of critical medicines, therapeutics and healthcare equipment, an official statement said.
“As relates to the Indo-Pacific, the US stresses on maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Harris said, in the wake of China’s growing assertiveness in the strategically vital region.
“India and America are natural partners. We have similar values, similar geopolitical interests,” Modi said in their joint appearance. Both leaders kept their masks on for the entire duration of the 15-minute public statements.
“They exchanged views on recent global developments, including in Afghanistan, and reaffirmed their commitment towards a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” the MEA said in a statement after the bilateral meeting.
Modi invited the 56-year-old Democratic leader and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff to India.
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