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India, US hold talks under shadow of Washington’s Afghanistan retreat

By Arul Louis, Meeting under the shadow of Washington’s retreat from Afghanistan, diplomats and defence officials of India and the US have discussed the recent developments in the region and cooperation in counter-terrorism.

Defence Department spokesperson Lt Col Martin Meiners said on Thursday: “Building on growing bilateral ties, US and Indian officials discussed new opportunities to strengthen multilateral cooperation between the United States, India, and other like-minded partners.”

He said that they “exchanged views on a range of regional issues of shared interest, including in South Asia, East and Southeast Asia, and the Western Indian Ocean” at their meeting on Wednesday.

“(Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Affairs Ely) Ratner expressed his confidence that the United States and India will continue to take their partnership to new heights as they jointly meet the challenges of this century,” Meiners said.

Known as an “intersessional” dialogue in India and “intersectional” in the US, the meeting at the level of Joint Secretaries takes stock of the current developments and the cooperation between the annual high-level 2+2 ministerial meetings.

A readout of the meeting issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that they “considered possibility of enhancing collaboration in areas of counterterrorism, HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) and maritime security and “exchanged assessments of the recent developments in South Asia”.

Neither of the statements specifically mentioned Afghanistan where the US completed a chaotic pullout of its military on Tuesday following the Taliban takeover of the country, which impacts the regional strategic scenario and brings up new threats of terrorism, especially to India.

The Indian side at the dialogue was led by its Defence Ministry’s Joint Secretary, International Cooperation, Somnath Ghosh, and the External Affairs Ministry’s Joint Secretary, Americas, Vani Rao, and the US side by Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Affairs Ratner, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Ervin Massinga.

Meiners said that the dialogue “spanned the US-India comprehensive global strategic partnership, including climate, public health, defence, trade, technology and governance”.

He said that the officials were “committed to driving greater interoperability between the US and Indian militaries” and they “discussed bilateral and multilateral joint service engagements” and “progress toward operationalising key bilateral initiatives on information-sharing, logistics, defence industrial cooperation, and joint doctrine engagement through liaison exchanges”.

Advancing “cooperation in new domains, such as space, cyber, and emerging technology areas” also figured in their talks, Meiners said.

The last 2+2 Ministerial Dialgoue was held in New Delhi in October just before the US elections and the US was represented by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper, both of whom are now out of office.

The next meeting is to be held later this year in Washington will be with the officials of President Joe Biden’s administration.