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NEW DELHI (AP) — The top diplomats of India and the United States pledged Wednesday to expand their multilateral security partnership, underscoring the deepening of ties between two countries concerned over China’s growing influence in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met in New Delhi and sought to strengthen a regional front against Beijing’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and their cooperation in Afghanistan.
They also lauded each country’s help in fighting the coron- avirus and said their vaccine partnership is an effort to end the pandemic.
“There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than one between the U.S. and India. We are the world’s two leading democracies and our diversity fuels our national strength,” Blinken said at a joint news conference.
Washington has made no secret of the U.S. desire for India’s help in isolating China.
The two countries have steadily ramped up their military relationship and signed a string of defense deals.
The U.S. and India are part of the Quad regional alliance that also includes Japan and Australia and focuses on China’s growing economic and military strength. China has called the Quad an attempt to contain its ambitions.
Blinken said he and Jaishankar also discussed regional security issues includ- ing Afghanistan, where the U.S. is expected to complete its military withdrawal in August.
He called India’s contribution to the stability of Afghanistan “vital.“
Blinken said there was no “military solution“ to the conflict in Afghanistan and that the country would turn into a “pariah state” if the Taliban takes control by force.
Jaishankar said the world wishes to see an “independent, sovereign, democratic and sta- ble Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbors,” and cautioned that the country’s “independence and sovereignty will only be ensured if it is free from malign influences.”
New Delhi has often expressed concern that a Taliban takeover could lead to security threats against India.
Before meeting with Jaishankar, Blinken spoke to civil society leaders and said fundamental freedoms and rule of law are “tenets of democracies” like the U.S. and India.
Opponents of Modi’s governing Hindu nationalist party have accused it of stifling dissent and introducing divisive policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities. Modi has also been accused of trying to silence voices critical of his administration’s handling of the pandemic.
India routinely denies criticism of its human rights record. It has also rejected crit- icism by foreign governments and rights groups that civil liberties have contracted in the country.
“We believe that all people deserve to have a voice in their government, to be treated with respect, no matter who they are,” Blinken said.
After his India visit, Blinken is to travel to Kuwait.