Indian, Australian defence ministers discuss Afghanistan, Indo-Pacific
The defence ministers of India and Australia on Friday discussed the security situation in Afghanistan, its implications for the region, issues related to the Indo-Pacific where China has scaled up its maritime activities and steps to further bilateral military cooperation across domains, people familiar with the developments said on Friday.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Australian counterpart Peter Dutton met on the eve of the first 2+2 dialogue between the two countries. Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and Dutton are in India for the dialogue with their Indian counterparts S Jaishankar and Singh on Saturday.
“The defence minister told Dutton that India was monitoring the Afghanistan situation closely. He also said India was concerned about terrorist activity emanating from that country,” said one of the officials cited above. The Indian security establishment is concerned about terrorist activity in Afghanistan spilling over into the country after the Taliban takeover.
The situation in Afghanistan is expected to figure in the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries on Saturday, along with other important security issues such as China’s role in the region and the situation in the East and South China Seas, as previously reported by Hindustan Times.
Australia is also working with its partners to ensure a “joined up approach in any engagement with the Taliban”, though the current focus is on ensuring that the Taliban permits the safe passage of Australian and other citizens who wish to leave Afghanistan, Australian envoy Barry O’Farrell said on Thursday. He also said Australia was concerned that the new regime created by the Taliban in Afghanistan was not inclusive and had UN-sanctioned members of the Haqqani Network, and any engagement with the group would be based on its actions.
Both countries are keen to work jointly to realise the full potential of the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, Singh said after the bilateral meeting with Dutton.
“This partnership is based on our shared vision of free, open, inclusive and rule-based Indo-Pacific region. Both Australia and India have tremendous stakes in peace, development and free flow of trade, rules-based order and economic growth in the region,” Singh said.
Strengthening defence ties was on the agenda. He said the wide-ranging talks focused on defence cooperation and expanding military engagements across the three services, enhancing defence information sharing, cooperation in emerging defence technologies and mutual logistics support.
“Both sides noted with happiness that Australia joined the Malabar Exercise in 2020. In this context, we also expressed satisfaction in the continued participation of Australia in Malabar Exercise this year,” Singh said.
India, the US, Japan and Australia --- or the Quad --- conducted complex naval drills off the Pacific Ocean island of Guam last month under the Malabar banner, with the exercise involving destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, helicopters, long-range maritime patrol aircraft and elite special forces elements.
The second phase of the Malabar exercise will be held in the Bay of Bengal from October 11-14, said another official.
China has been monitoring the activities of the Quad countries. Beijing has been wary of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad that was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, and these suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019.
Singh apprised Dutton about steps being taken by India to achieve self-reliance in the defence sector and the “growing innovation ecosystem in India.”
“We discussed opportunities to work together in defence, science and technology areas. I invited Australian industry to take advantage of India’s liberalised foreign direct investment policies in the defence sector. We both agreed that there are opportunities of bilateral collaboration for co-development and co¬ production (of systems),” Singh said.
He added that India was committed to forging a robust partnership with Australia to promote regional security and growth.