External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Australian counterpart Marise Payne shared their concerns about the new Afghanistan government after the Taliban’s takeover of the war-ravaged country. Their remarks came after India and Australia on Saturday held an inaugural foreign and defence ministerial dialogue to boost overall strategic ties in the backdrop of an unsettling phase of geopolitical flux in the region.
Addressing a press conference after the dialogue, Jaishankar said a term like NATO was a “looking back term", and the QUAD was the way forward. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said there had been remarkable progress in India’s Defence relationship with Australia, and that the nations shared a common interest in a free and open rules-based Indo-Pacific.
Payne said ships of the nations’ navies are exercising together, and their mutual logistics support agreement helped Australia get oxygen to India. She said Australia will participate in the Malar exercise.
While Jaishankar shared concerns on the inclusiveness of the Taliban’s government, Payne said Australia did not want Afghanistan to become a breeding ground for terror.
Addressing the “frustration" of international students amid Covid-19, Jaishankar said it was “understandable". “We discussed the issue in detail. We have been facing problems with other countries as well - US and Canada. We give this priority," he said.
“I live and work in western Sydney. We have 60,000 students still in Australia. Desire for on campus experience is understandable. Travel restrictions have impacted not just students, even ministers," said Payne.
“Our approach, response is based on modelling and we are on the way to vaccinating Aussies that will help us get students back. In phase four, for the shared desire for travel. I will be the first to welcome students at the airport when they return," she said.
Talking about the ASEAN group, Payne said that as Australia and India have re-energised relations, there is also the opportunity to work through smaller groups like the Quad or other pieces of regional architecture like ASEAN. “Quad members are champions of ASEAN’s centrality," she said.
“We actively engage in ASEAN-led architecture. We are committed to supporting the practical implementation of the ASEAN outlook on Indo-Pacific. A constructive engagement and an informal diplomatic is overwhelmingly about contributing for that open, inclusive region," she said.
On the 20th anniversary of the September 11 twin tower attacks, Jaishankar said “it’s a reminder of the importance of combating terrorism without compromise. Close as we are to its epicenter, let us appreciate the value of international cooperation to that end."
S Jaishankar and Rajath Singh held the ‘two-plus-two’ talks here with their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.
Jaishankar described the in-person talks as “productive". “A productive 2+2 meeting today with Australia," he said in a tweet. The talks took place at a time the global focus is on the situation in Afghanistan after its takeover by the Taliban, and the issue figured in the deliberations.
“We are meeting at a very crucial time when, along with a pandemic we have a geo-political environment which is in rapid flux and we must, bilaterally and with other like-minded partners, respond adequately to safeguard our national interests as well as ensure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region," Jaishankar said in his opening remarks at the dialogue.
The external affairs minister said India has the “two-plus-two’ format of talks with very few countries. “I also believe that developments in Afghanistan will be an important subject of discussion between us today," Jaishankar said. “This meeting, of course, gives us an opportunity to review and take forward the comprehensive strategic partnership as we prepare for another meeting between our prime ministers later this month in the United States," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to travel to the US later this month to attend a summit of Quad leaders.
People familiar with the ‘two-plus-two’ talks said the two sides held extensive deliberations on all key issues of strategic interests including the situation in the Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s growing muscle-flexing in the region. The overall focus was to ramp up the strategic ties, they said.
While Singh had wide-ranging discussions with Australian defence minister Dutton on Friday, Jaishankar met foreign minister Payne in the morning ahead of the ‘two-plus-two’ dialogue.
During their talks, the two defence ministers discussed the fragile security situation in Afghanistan and their “common concerns" relating possible spread of terrorism from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The foreign and defence ministerial talks took place amid renewed efforts by the Quad member countries to expand cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Besides India and Australia, the Quad comprises the US and Japan.
At an event organised by the Observer Research Organisation, Payne on Friday said the Quad has evolved “swiftly" and very “effectively" and commended India for taking a strong leadership role in the region.
Talking about “significant challenges" facing the Indo-Pacific, the Australian foreign minister said Canberra seeks a region where rights of large and small countries are respected and that no “single dominant power" dictates the outcome for others.
The dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers was instituted as part of an overall goal to expand strategic cooperation between the two countries. India has such a framework for talks with a very few countries including the US and Japan.
The defence and military cooperation between India and Australia is on an upswing in the last few years. In June last year, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a landmark deal for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support during an online summit between Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. The Australian Navy was part of the recent Malabar naval exercise that also featured navies of India, the US and Japan.
With PTI inputs.