Washington: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday that while the rise of China has had a very fundamental impact on the international order, the Quad should not be seen as “some kind of ganging up and negatively driven” and that the Quad is “not against somebody”.
In a talk at the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, when asked by Ambassador Frank Wisner how India perceives the threat level due to the situation in Afghanistan, Jaishankar, in an oblique criticism of the US for keeping India out of the Doha talks, said: “I think to some degree we would all be justified in having levels of concern (over Afghanistan), and to some degree, I think the jury is still out.
“When I say levels of concern, there were commitments which were made by the Taliban at Doha, the US knows that best, we were not taken into confidence into various aspects of that,” he said.
On the Quad, in the backdrop of the first in-person Leaders’ summit held in Washington on September 24, he said: “The beauty of Quad is precisely because it is not rigid, it’s not formal, it’s very comfortable and easy-going, and the agenda is made up responding to the requirements of the times. I see it as a new model of cooperation among like-minded countries.”
Asked about the China focus of the Quad, he said: ”I want to make one thing clear, the Quad is for things, it’s not against somebody. And the Quad joint statement actually says that it’s important not to be rail-roaded into some kind of negative discourse which is not from our script, it’s somebody else’s script, and I don’t think we should fall for that.”
He continued: “All of us have a fundamental right to cooperate with partners, I think others should not have a veto on our choices, it’s part of a democratic world order.”
To a question on how to deal with the rise of China, he said: “I would say in many ways those are bilateral choices all of us have to make, we each have a very substantial relationship with China and in many ways, China being today such a big player and so salient in the international economy, I think it’s natural that these relationships are quite unique; so what are my problems or opportunities would not be as that for the US or Australia or Japan or Indonesia or France. It would be different for each country.”
“Obviously the rise of China has had a very fundamental impact on the international order, so we need to assess that in the light of our own interests. It’s essential to normalize this conversation, this should not end up as though it’s some kind of ganging up and negatively driven, I don’t think that’s a fair description of what is a completely natural evolution of the international order to my mind”, he said referring to the Quad.
Asked by Wisner how India was responding to the threat levels from Afghanistan after its takeover by the Taliban, he said: “I think to some degree we would all be justified in having levels of concern, and to some degree, I think the jury is still out.
“When I say levels of concern, there were commitments which were made by the Taliban at Doha, the US knows that best; we were not taken into confidence into various aspects of that,” he said.
“So whatever were the deals which were struck in Doha, one has a broad sense, but beyond that; are we going to see an inclusive government, are we going to see respect for the rights of women, and children and minorities, most important, are we going to see an Afghanistan whose soil is not used for terrorism against other states and the rest of the world?”
“If you ask me are you concerned, obviously we are. If you ask is the time to draw conclusions, I would take my time and study this with a certain degree of deliberation because as I said a lot of the understandings that have been, many of these are not known to the entire international community.”
Asked if the US and India are on the same page with regard to recognition for the Taliban, on humanitarian assistance, on the threat of terror, and are the US-India lines of communication open, Jaishankar said: “I think we are on similar pages at a principle level on many of these issues; certainly say terrorism, the usage of Afghan soil for terrorism is something that both feel very strongly about,” he said, adding that it was discussed at the bilateral between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden on September 24 and was also part of the outcome document.
“There would be issues on which we would agree more, there would be issues on which we would agree less, our experiences in some respects are different than yours, we have been victims of cross-border terrorism ourselves from that region and that has shaped in many ways our view of some of the neighbours of Afghanistan,” he said, in a tacit reference to Pakistan.
“How much the US shares that view and where is that the US makes its tactical compromise I think that is for the Americans to figure out,” he added, in reference to the US’ talks with Pakistan over Afghanistan.
Asked if that includes signals that both countries jointly send to Pakistan, and how he sees those signals evolving, Jaishankar referred to the ongoing hearings at the US Congress on Afghanistan during which references to Pakistan’s involvement in supporting the Taliban were made.
“We obviously watch a lot of your own domestic debates on this matter and I noticed that you’ve been having a rather animated debate on this subject in the last few days,” he said, without taking Pakistan’s name.
“As I said there are aspects that we share and there are aspects where our positions are not the same.”