NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit India next week and hold discussions with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, with Afghanistan and Quad being top on the agenda. This will be Blinken’s first trip to India as the Secretary of State and his third meeting with Jaishankar.
The two leaders had previously met on the sidelines of the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in London, during the EAM’s visit to the US and on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy.
According to sources, the focus of the visit would be preparing ground for an in-person summit of leaders of the Quad, comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US, in Washington later this year.
The US has been looking at convening the in-person summit with the aim to boost cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, where China’s military muscle-flexing has become a major concern. The situation in Afghanistan is also high on both countries’ agenda with the Taliban making rapid strides in the war-torn nation following the withdrawal of US troops, which is slated to be completed by August-end.
The Taliban was evicted from power by the US-led forces in 2001. Now, as the US is pulling back its troops ending nearly two decades of military presence in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters are attempting to gain control of various parts of the country.
Engagement between the two sides has continued with Jaishankar holding meetings with met US Deputy National Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and US Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad last week in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of the connectivity summit, during which the Afghan situation dominated the agenda.
Blinken will be the second top official of the Joe Biden administration to visit India after Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin, who visited New Delhi earlier this year and held talks with Rajanth Singh and also called upon Narendra Modi.
Growing presence of Taliban big concern
Presence of Taliban forces, who are trying to recapture various parts of Afghanistan, is a major concern for India and the US. Antony Blinken’s (L) meeting with S Jaishankar will focus on this.