The United States and India have a shared interest in Afghanistan — and neither side wants the Taliban to take control of the country by force, a former top diplomat told CNBC.
“Both countries really want to work together to bring about an inclusive, secure (and) stable Afghanistan,” said Navtej Sarna said Thursday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.” Sarna was the Indian ambassador to the U.S. from November 2016 to December 2018.
Afghanistan was one of several topics discussed Wednesday when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi. Blinken also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to talk about efforts to deepen bilateral ties.
Shared interests over Afghanistan
President Joe Biden in April announced that the U.S. would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. As withdrawal efforts began, a U.N. report said the Taliban made advances to seize more territory that led to a spike in civilian casualties.
“India and the United States share a strong interest in a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan,” Blinken said at a joint press briefing with Jaishankar in New Delhi, according to a State Department transcript.
“There has to be a peaceful resolution which requires the Taliban and the Afghan Government to come to the table, and we both agree, I think strongly, that any future government in Afghanistan has to be inclusive and fully representative of the Afghan people,” he added.
From India’s point-of-view, it wants to see the U.S. keep up pressure on Pakistan when it comes to dealing with the Taliban, according to Sarna.
The former ambassador also pointed out China’s involvement — the country’s foreign minister Wang Yi met with senior leaders of the Taliban in the Chinese city of Tianjin on Wednesday. That may potentially complicate matters further.
“There’s a lot happening there and it’s very important that the countries with a similar mindset on Afghanistan, who want to restrain the Taliban and make it an inclusive government, get together,” Sarna said.
‘Early days for the Quad’
At this week’s meeting, Blinken and Jaishankar also discussed strengthening the two countries’ regional cooperation bilaterally and through the Quad, a quadrilateral partnership including Japan and Australia.
While the informal alliance positions itself as being committed to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, some see its existence as a counter response to China’s growing influence in the region.
Sarna pointed out that Quad members have distanced themselves from the so-called “anti-China” club rhetoric, which some — including China’s foreign ministry — have called it.
The group will have to work together in areas where they can achieve results such as distributing Covid vaccines, climate change, building up of infrastructure and pushing critical technology advancements.
“These are early days for the Quad,” said the former diplomat, adding that the four countries do not have too much experience working together in many of those areas outlined.
“But, I think the fact that now summits are taking place at the leader level, I think it’s a positive sign,” Sarna said. “We’ll have to wait and watch, but I think the immediate concrete thing that can happen is the vaccine initiative.”
Quad leaders met at a virtual meeting in March and Covid-19 vaccine distribution efforts was part of the agenda.
Blinken’s visit will likely set the stage for the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this year in the U.S. where Jaishankar and India’s defense minister will meet their American counterparts.