India, Australia share concerns on Afghanistan

Updated on Sep 12, 2021 04:43 AM IST

At the conclusion of the inaugural India-Australia 2+2 dialogue of defence and foreign ministers, the two sides asserted that their bilateral partnership and cooperation in groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad was focused on ensuring an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and not aimed at any country.

Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and EAM S. Jaishankar during inaugural 2+2 Ministerial level meeting between India and Australia in New Delhi. (PTI)
Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and EAM S. Jaishankar during inaugural 2+2 Ministerial level meeting between India and Australia in New Delhi. (PTI)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

New Delhi India and Australia on Saturday insisted Afghanistan’s soil must not become a safe haven for terrorists or be used for attacks on other nations, even as they called for steps to ensure an inclusive governing structure in Kabul and the safe departure of people wishing to leave the war-torn country.

At the conclusion of the inaugural India-Australia 2+2 dialogue of defence and foreign ministers, the two sides asserted that their bilateral partnership and cooperation in groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad was focused on ensuring an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and not aimed at any country.

Remarks by defence minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and their Australian counterparts, Marise Payne and Peter Dutton, at a media interaction following the meeting made it evident the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover on August 15, and mounting concerns about terror emanating from Afghan soil were a major part of the discussions.

The significance of the meeting being held on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US – an event that triggered the American invasion of Afghanistan – wasn’t lost on the ministers. Jaishankar said in his opening remarks this was a reminder of the importance of “combating terrorism without compromise”, and India appreciates the value of global cooperation given its location close to the “epicentre” of terrorism.

In her opening remarks, Payne said: “Last month did see the fall of Kabul and along with the ongoing fight of terrorism, the future of Afghanistan remains a central concern to both of our countries.”

Jaishankar said in response to a question that UN Security Council resolution 2593 emphasises “Afghanistan must not allow its soil to be used in any manner, by anybody for terrorism”. Payne added: “We do share a very strong interest in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for the breeding or the training of terrorists and that is an abiding concern of the international community.”

The two sides, Jaishankar said, have concerns about the “inclusiveness of the dispensation” in Kabul, the treatment of women and minorities, the travel of Afghan nationals and humanitarian aid. Payne said Australia’s focus is on seeking safe passage for its citizens, foreign nationals and visa holders of other countries who want to leave Afghanistan.

“We are very conscious of the impact of violence and breaches of human rights on the Afghanistan community and again would call for those fundamental human rights to be observed,” she said. The Taliban takeover exacerbated issues that were already affecting the Afghans, such as a drought and significant internal and external displacement of citizens, and international organisations such as UNHCR should be allowed unimpeded access to provide humanitarian support, she added.

Payne, who is also Australia’s minister for women, spoke strongly for the rights of Afghan women and girls. Australia worked for two decades to ensure such rights, including in education and participation in the workforce, were preserved and the international community must now ensure these rights are “not wound back”, she said.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that developments in Afghanistan were a key part of separate meetings held by the foreign and defence ministers. The Indian side also raised its concerns about terrorism from Afghan soil and Pakistan’s backing for the Taliban at all the meetings, the people said.

Jaishankar’s reference to the Taliban setup in Kabul as a “dispensation” was an indication the Indian side is in no hurry to accord any recognition to the interim cabinet formed by the group this week.

Responding to another question on the Chinese side referring to Quad as an “Asian NATO”, Jaishankar said this is a platform for India, Australia, Japan and the US to cooperate for the benefit of the world, and such a description amounts to a misrepresentation of reality.

“I think a term like NATO is very much a Cold War term, looking back. I think Quad looks [to] the future, it reflects globalisation [and] the compulsions of countries to work together,” he said. There is no relationship between issues the Quad is focused on – such as vaccines, supply chains, education and connectivity –and NATO, he added.

Payne said the Quad champions Asean centrality and has a “positive and practical agenda” that includes Covid-19 vaccines, climate change, critical technologies and countering “dangerous disinformation”. She added, “Our constructive engagement in an informal diplomatic network is overwhelmingly about contributing positively for that open, inclusive and resilient region in which we all want to live.”

The four ministers asserted that India and Australia are committed to bolstering cooperation across the Indo-Pacific to ensure a free and open region based on a rules-based order and to improve coordination for maritime security and information-sharing.

Singh said the two sides discussed institutional frameworks for collaboration in defence and fighting the pandemic, and emphasised the need to ensure free flow of trade and adherence to international rules.

“On bilateral defence cooperation, we decided to expand military engagements across services, facilitate greater defence information-sharing and to work closely for mutual logistics support,” Singh said.

Dutton described India as a “rising Indo-Pacific great power” and an “increasingly significant security partner for Australia”, and said the bilateral logistics support arrangement enabled Australia to airlift oxygen to India during the second wave of Covid-19 infections this year.

He said he and Singh had agreed on new initiatives to further defence ties and engagement between the armed forces. Australia will invite India to participate in the Talisman Sabre exercise and continue to participate in India’s Malabar naval exercise along with the US and Japan.

The two sides agreed to reinforce each other’s maritime domain awareness through increased information-sharing, and Australia will increase its defence diplomatic representation in New Delhi to support coordination on maritime security and greater information-sharing, Dutton said.

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