Regional ‘anxiety’ on Afghan transition: Biswal

Hours ahead of the terror attack against the Indian consulate in Herat, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal said that there was "a certain amount of anxiety across the region.

Updated - November 17, 2021 07:14 am IST

Published - May 23, 2014 11:35 pm IST - Washington

Hours ahead of the terror attack against the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, a top U.S. official said that there was “a certain amount of anxiety across the region about what the transition in Afghanistan means,” and that America’s trilateral dialogue with New Delhi and Kabul gained additional currency in this context.

Especially given India’s “important equities,” in Afghanistan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal said, “I understand the anxiety, but we are also working very closely to make sure that we are sharing information.”

In a discussion with Indian media in Washington, Ms. Biswal also spoke warmly of the incoming Indian administration led by Narendra Modi and the BJP, saying, “We see… a Modi government coming in with a very strong mandate to revitalise the Indian economy and to create strength and prosperity… as one that we very much want to support [and] partner with.”

The Assistant Secretary emphasised that in line with U.S. President Barack Obama’s call with Mr. Modi a week ago, in which he effectively reversed a nine-year visa ban and invited Mr. Modi to visit the U.S., the administration here “[looked] forward to welcoming him here in the U.S. at the earliest opportunity [and that] he will travel on an A-1 visa as a head of government”.

When asked whether there were any concerns about the impact that the BJP’s ideological partners in the Sangh Parivar could have on the policies of the new Indian government whether in terms of concerns about religious freedom or about economic protectionism, Ms. Biswal said, “Certainly our hope and expectation is that this is a mandate for economic opportunity that brings all Indians together, that in order to pursue a growth agenda you need an inclusive and consensus-oriented approach and fully support and want to work with that.”

She added that the U.S. had a global issues forum “where we talk about human rights, women’s empowerment — we will continue to have those conversations with the incoming government”.

Conceding that particularly on the trade and investment front, “There are certainly issues that exist between the U.S. and India,” and the U.S. had “heated discussions” with all such trading partners, she however described these as “natural and to-be-expected”.

Ms. Biswal said that some of the prominent issues of concern in this area “are in India’s own interest to resolve,” and the discourse had become “too much about the U.S. versus India, rather than… where does India want to go [and] what are its priorities,” though what the U.S. hoped to achieve was to “remove the contentiousness and focus on the opportunities ahead”.

She also touched upon some of the “lessons learned” from the diplomatic crisis that engulfed bilateral ties last December after India’s Deputy Consul-General in New York, Devyani Khobradage, was arrested on visa fraud charges.

Ms. Biswal said that these included the need to have “a much greater understanding and coordination of information because, quite frankly, we have our own internal silos that exist in terms of law enforcement agencies and so [we are] trying to have an advanced knowledge and understanding of how different events are going to unfold, which… we did not have an understanding of”.

Finally Ms. Biswal expressed hope that civil nuclear cooperation between India and the U.S., which she described as a “win-win,” would advance under the Modi government, noting that the two countries have been making “small, incremental progress with the small contract that was announced during Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh’s visit [to the U.S.] last year and we would like to work through the issues”.

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