EAM for greater regional efforts to ensure political settlement in Afghanistan
Against the backdrop of stepped-up efforts by the Taliban to capture territory, external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Thursday called for greater regional efforts to ensure a political settlement in Afghanistan that is good for both the country and the region.
Jaishankar dismissed suggestions of a nuclear arms race between India and China but acknowledged that bilateral relations were disturbed because Beijing wasn’t abiding by border agreements and there had been a border incident that resulted in casualties after 45 years.
He made the remarks during a question and answer session after delivering an address on the theme “India-Russia ties in a changing world” at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. The address was a key part of his three-day visit to Russia.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan figured in Jaishankar’s meetings during a transit halt in Tehran on Wednesday and it is also expected to be a key part of his talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.
Recalling the role played by India and Russia in supporting the erstwhile Northern Alliance in Afghanistan two decades ago, Jaishankar said both countries want a united and sovereign Afghanistan “at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbours”, and where minorities have a fair share of representation.
“I do think that the countries of the region... have a very strong interest in ensuring that we get an outcome in Afghanistan which is both good for Afghanistan and which is good for the region. And they are not different because I can tell you what is good for Afghanistan will automatically be good for the region,” he said.
Responding to questions that focused on China, including the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Jaishankar said the two countries had a very stable relationship for the past 40 years. “I’m not saying that there were no issues and challenges in the relationship but it has been very stable and it saw a big economic element where China essentially emerged as our second-largest trade partner,” he said.
“But for the last one year, there has been a lot of concern about the relationship because China has not observed agreements that it had signed up to when it came to our border. After 45 years we actually had a border incident with casualties and peace and tranquillity on the border, for any country, is a foundation of a relationship with a neighbour,” he added.
He brushed aside a question on a nuclear arms race between India and China, saying the Chinese side had become a nuclear weapon power in 1964 with a primary focused on the US and the erstwhile USSR, while India exercised the nuclear option in 1998 while making it clear that it was aiming only for a minimum deterrent.
There is no basis for an arms race, given the 30-year gap between the nuclear weapons programmes of the two sides and India’s decision to have a minimum deterrent, he said.
Jaishankar also addressed Russian concerns about the Indo-Pacific by saying that the country could be part of the concept as it was not aimed at shutting anyone out. He described the Indo-Pacific as a “further advancement” of India’s Act East policy to focus on a region where the nation’s top trade partners are located, including China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Australia and the ASEAN states.
“In many ways, Russia is there. If Russia acts like Russia, Russia will make its full contribution [to the Indo-Pacific],” he said, adding that Indian investments in Russia’s Far East, Russia’s participation in the East Asia Summit are “part of the Indo-Pacific”.
During his address, Jaishankar said relations between Russia and India have been “among the steadiest of the major relationships in the world after World War 2”. He added, “Where India-Russia bilateral ties are concerned, there have been changes – even issues – from time to time. But at the end of the day, the logic of geo-politics was so compelling that we barely remember these even as minor aberrations.”
“On the political front, it is essential for India and Russia to work together to ensure the stability and diversity of the world as we know it. This includes an insistence on honouring agreements and observing laws. On the economic side, there is a growing realisation on the importance of resilient and reliable supply chains. Our collaboration can surely add to the options before the world, as we have already seen in the case of vaccines,” he said.