Democratic values bind India, U.S., says Blinken

Democratic values bind India, U.S., says Blinken

Modi welcomes Biden’s commitment to strengthening ties.

Democratic values and free citizenry bind India and the U.S. together, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said here at the end of talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Wednesday.

The two sides discussed cooperation on a wide range of issues, including Afghanistan, countering COVID-19, the Indo-Pacific strategy and the Quad. During his day-long visit to New Delhi, Mr. Blinken also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, members of civil society and a representative of the Dalai Lama.

After meeting Mr. Blinken, who is the third member of the Biden administration to visit India, Mr. Modi said he welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s “strong commitment to strengthen the India-U.S. strategic partnership that is anchored in our shared democratic values and is a force for global good”.

After the bilateral talks, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Jaishankar told mediapersons about their conversation on “shared values” of democratic freedoms.

“The relationship between our two countries is so important and so strong because it is a relationship between our democracies. One of the elements that Americans admire most about India is the steadfast commitment of its people to democracy, pluralism, to human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Mr. Blinken replied to a question about whether he had raised a recent “backslide” in India’s human rights record. Mr. Blinken pointed at the free press and independent judiciary as part of the “self-correcting mechanism” that he said could repair challenges to any democracy.

Mr. Jaishankar said he had responded to the U.S. concerns on the issues with a number of points, making it clear that the “quest” for a more perfect democracy applied to both the U.S. and India.

He said the Modi government’s policies “of the last few years” had been done to “right wrongs done historically”, and that while freedoms are important, they should not be “equated with the lack of governance”.

In response to international criticism of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the government’s moves on Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the External Affairs Minister has in the past referred to the burden of “accumulated problems” of history, and has defended Internet restrictions as required for maintaining law and order.

On Afghanistan, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Jaishankar agreed that there was no “military solution” to the conflict, and that taking over the country by force would not help the Taliban gain the “international recognition” or “legitimacy” it desires, including the lifting of sanctions and travel bans against the Taliban leadership. In a reference to Pakistan, Mr. Jaishankar said one neighbour of Afghanistan was an “exception” to the consensus for a peaceful political settlement. Ahead of the talks, MEA sources had said India would raise the need for “sustained pressure” on Pakistan on terror financing and safe havens. An Afghanistan that did not respect the rights of its people, and an Afghanistan that committed atrocities against its own people would not be part of the global community, Mr. Blinken said.

Both the dignitaries also highlighted cooperation in the Indo-Pacific as part of the ‘Quad’ with Japan and Australia, which Mr. Blinken said was “not a military alliance” at all.

The two sides also spoke about the Quad’s initiative to provide Indian-made vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region. Mr. Blinken announced a $25-million grant for India’s vaccine programme, and promised to strengthen vaccine supply chains to enhance production.

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