India and the US on Wednesday pledged to bolster their multilateral strategic ties, with an eye on China and Afghanistan.
Beijing and Kabul both featured in the wide-ranging talks between Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and visiting American Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New Delhi, amid strained US-China ties and India's growing headache over President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September.
"A wide ranging and productive discussion today with @SecBlinken. Useful in mapping out the next steps in our bilateral partnership. Strong convergence of views on many regional concerns. Agreed to work closely on multilateral and global issues," the Indian Foreign Minister tweeted after the meeting.
On his part, Secretary Blinken said that India and the US both share a vision of free, open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific, in a clear indication that Washington is rapidly embracing New Delhi as its strategic partner amid China's growing influence in the region.
On Afghanistan, the visiting top diplomat said that India and the US share a strong interest in a peaceful, secure and stable country and that there is no military solution to the conflict in the region -- "it requires the Taliban and Afghan government to come to the talking table".
"We both agreed strongly that any future government in Afghanistan has to be inclusive and fully representative of Afghan people. Ultimately it has to be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” he said at a joint media meet with his Indian counterpart after their closed door meeting.
New Delhi is particularly worried about the implications of the American troops leaving Afghanistan, given the fact that it has so far infused over three billion US dollars worth development aid into that country and the horrific memories of the Taliban's role in the hijacking of an Indian airliner in 1999.
According to the Indian External Affairs Ministry, the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent travel restrictions were also discussed at the meeting between the top diplomats of the two countries.
Earlier in the day, the US Secretary of State met Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. The Indian Foreign Ministry is tight-lipped on the agenda of that meeting.
Secretary Blinken, who arrived in India on Tuesday on a two-day visit, also called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before departing for his next destination in Asia, Kuwait. This was his first trip to the Indian subcontinent after assuming office earlier this year.
"Wheels up for my trip to New Delhi and Kuwait City. I look forward to consultations with our partners to further cooperation in support of our shared interests in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East," Secretary Blinken tweeted moments before boarding a flight from Washington DC early on Tuesday.
In March, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin visited India. Apart from holding talks with several senior Indian Ministers and officials, he had called on PM Modi. A month later, US Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry came to New Delhi.