Antony Blinken's visit to Kuwait was to underline the importance of 60 years of diplomatic ties that both countries have shared from the time Kuwait became an independent nation.
By Rashi Randev
The changing political and security dynamics of the South Asian landscape and the disquieting concerns surrounding China’s belligerence in the region, combined with an inevitably possible collapse of the Afghanistan government have become a quandary for the Biden administration.The United States understands that at this juncture, it is important to strengthen partnerships with its allies and work together on shared priorities, therefore both India and Kuwait are significant for the United States to pursue its interests and ensure its hold in the region. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s visit was an attempt of a diplomatic concord to brace its bilateral ties with both countries.
Blinken’s Visit to India: Priorities and Predicaments
This visit to India was the Biden administration’s endeavour to expand the strong and growing bilateral partnership between two democracies, by acknowledging the strategic geopolitical importance India holds as a leading global power and as a key partner for the United Statesin the region.Four significant priorities remained vital to this diplomatic visit.
A coordinated Covid-19 response and Cooperation
India and the U.S. are committed in their fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, bilaterally as well as through the Quad vaccine partnership, which is committed to bringing effective vaccines and an innocuous and operational vaccine distribution structure across the Indo pacific. India encountered a brutal second wave of Covid-19 infection which overburdened the country’s health system and encumbered the crematoriums and burial grounds. In its hour of need, India was assisted by many nations, including the United States which had provided 200 million dollars for the Covid-19 relief, and in this visit, Blinken has pledged additional financial support of 25 million dollars to India from the Biden administration to enhance vaccination efforts, strengthen supply chain logistics, train more healthcare workers and to build up a strategy to fight the vaccine hesitancy among the Indian population. Vaccine hesitancy generates a serious challenge and has occurred due to the slow pace of vaccinations resulting in supply chain obstacles like shortage of vaccines, lack of adequate infrastructure, logistics and unfair access to vaccines, and publics’ misplaced beliefs in the efficacy of the vaccination.
Predicaments and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic faced by both countries remained a top priority in the discussions. However, there was no certain clarity on the issue of indemnity which has put the vaccine donations to India on hold. The transportation and temperature specific storage concerns associated with the American vaccines are an issue and require the Indian government to sign a liability waiver, which can provide the US pharmaceutical companies to use indemnity as a way of legal protection in case of any cold-chain lapses and storage and transportation malfunctions within India. Over the vaccination discourse, S. Jaishankar alluded that the sphere of vaccine manufacturing is a space where things are incessantly changing and assured that India and the United States will continue to work together to elevate production for both domestic and global supplies of vaccinations.
The Afghanistan Dilemma
Curtailing the rise of China and Covid-19 cooperation has been a shared concern and a decisive push for an evolving Indo-US strategic and diplomatic partnership, but in recent months the issue of a destabilized Afghanistan has taken precedence. The Indian and American interests align on many levels, but they differ on Afghanistan. For twenty years both the countries shared a common interest in keeping the Taliban at bay and even though the Biden administration still shares the same concern, its priorities have shifted and it is clear that after they pull out, the US will not be in the same position of power and influence to support the Afghan government in its fight with radical extremists to maintain peace and democracy in the region. India’s apprehensions about the withdrawal given its geographical proximity to Afghanistan and the fear of Pakistan realigning with the Taliban in the absence of U.S. military presence makes it an investment and significant credible partner for the United States in maintaining stability and progress in the region after its exit. Both the countries believe in the ideals of democracy and the democratic will of the Afghan government and have invested heavily in the region.
For two decades the US has exhausted its financial resources and has provided ardent ground military support to fight the Taliban for maintaining stability in the region. India on the other hand, had no troops on the ground but still provided military equipment and operational training to the Afghan forces and has even given substantial financial assistance to Afghanistan. Antony Blinken pointed out that a continued military presence and response cannot be a solution to resolve the conflict in the region and both India and the United States have to continue to work in tandem, to sustain the gains of the Afghan people and support regional stability after the withdrawal of coalition forces from the country. He also assured the Indian government that even after the military pulls out, the United States will remain engaged in the region and committed to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan. Amidst all these shifts in priorities, India is at a place where it needs to balance the Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific and deal with the possibility of Pakistan falling into the clutches of a re-emerging Taliban and this can convert India into a game-changer in the region.
The Indo-Pacific Construct and QUAD
Looking at the present global order and developments, the future of Quad seems promising but with the rising Chinese aggression in the Asian region and political instability in Afghanistan, the future can be highly unpredictable. The Indo-Pacific as a region and the Quad nations should be supporting each other in this time of need amidst the pandemic and curtail potential escalation of radical and extremist spill close to India. The shift in American priorities from Afghanistan to Indo-Pacific can be seen as a significant display of commitment towards the region and assurance of allegiance to economical, structural, and military imperatives of Quad to develop a multipolar directive in the region that is free from China’s aggression and domination. The US support for India also comes from shared values of democracy and liberal ideology and the fact that the other countries in Southeast Asia are either not democracies or economically and militarily incapacitated to stand up to China’s belligerence. Quad is a confluence of four major nations in the world and two seas and India holds a vital piece in a geopolitical puzzle for the expansion and progress of the interests of the United States so that it could advocate a free and open Indo-Pacific, for which the progression of Quad is essential for ensuring maritime security, safeguarding freedom of navigation and territorial connectivity in the region.
Human Rights and Democratic Freedom
Since President Biden broke a substantial barrier and set an example of racial inclusivity by choosing a woman of color as his running mate and a Vice Presidential candidate, there has been growing curiosity on his views on decisions and policies of the Modi government and his stance on the Kashmir situation, CAA-NRC bill and the farmers protest. Blinken’s visit was an opportunity to understand the Biden administration’s stance on the issues of human rights and democratic freedom as for the past two years both the United States and India have been internally witnessing dissent and disorder which has challenged the internal dynamics of the social, cultural and political aspects of these democracies. During his discussion with the members of civil society, Blinken remarked that the Biden administration believes that all people deserve to have a voice in their government, to be treated with respect, no matter who they are, and both India and the US as democracies are a ‘work in progress and therefore should continue to stand together to strengthen and support each other at the time of escalating global threats to democracy and international freedom.
Blinken’s Visit to Kuwait: Strengthening Diplomatic Ties and Cooperation
Antony Blinken’s visit to Kuwait was to underline the importance of 60 years of diplomatic ties that both countries have shared from the time Kuwait became an independent nation. Kuwait has been a dependable ally of the United States in this turbulent region since 1991, when the US-led a coalition of nations to help Kuwait to liberate from the Iraqi occupation of Saddam Hussein, giving back the Kuwaitis their legitimacy. In the years since, the partnership between both the countries has grown even stronger as they have been working to advance regional security across the Middle East and presently Kuwait hosts more than 13,000 American troops at the base of Camp Arifjan, which is situated in the South of Kuwait city.
With the impending withdrawal of U.S troops from Afghanistan, the Biden administration is under substantial pressure regarding the evacuation of Afghan civilians, particularly translators, US Embassy employees, and other Special Immigrant Visa applicants, who for two decades assisted and helped the US forces and are now at a risk of facing retribution by the Taliban. The United States is committed to helping these people, and for this President Biden announced ‘Operation Allies Refuge’ which is an ongoing military operation to airlift these selected at-risk Afghan civilians and their families and relocate them. Blinken’s Visit to Kuwait was an attempt of cooperation between the allies with an entreaty to aid and host these Afghanis and their families and given their history of camaraderie, it is not a big ask.
If the Biden administration fails to check China’s aggression and loses control in Afghanistan then this can debilitate the U.S stakes in the South Asian Region. India is a leading emerging power and Kuwait is one of the major oil-producing countries in the region, and given the geographical proximity of India to China and Kuwait to Afghanistan, they are both pivotal to the United States and both these countries can gain a lot with this partnership.
(The author is PhD Research Scholar at Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)