NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian officials were expected Wednesday to express alarm over Taliban gains in Afghanistan and to press for more support against China in talks with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Blinken, in his first trip to India as America’s top diplomat, was meanwhile due to raise concerns over human rights in his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
US-India relations have historically been prickly but China’s growing assertiveness pushed them closer, particularly since deadly clashes last year on the disputed Indo-Chinese Himalayan border.
India is part of the Quad alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia, seen as a bulwark against China.
But according to Brahma Chellaney, strategic affairs expert at India’s Centre for Policy Research, US backing has "slipped a notch" since Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump as president.
"India is locked in a military standoff with China but unlike top Trump administration officials who publicly condemned China’s aggression and backed India, no one in Team Biden has so far lent open support to India," Chellaney told AFP.
Biden has further riled New Delhi with Washington’s "rushed and poorly planned exit from Afghanistan", Chellaney added.
India is worried that a possible takeover by the Taliban, which it sees as backed by its arch-rival Pakistan, will turn the country into a base for militants to attack India.
The Taliban welcomed virulently anti-Indian extremists when the Sunni Muslim militants ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
A hijacked Indian airliner was flown to the Taliban bastion of Kandahar in 1999.
India, a firm backer of the Afghan government with billions of dollars in development aid, recently evacuated 50 staff from its Kandahar consulate due to the worsening security situation.
The talks in a monsoon-soaked New Delhi will also touch on joint efforts on making Covid-19 vaccines, climate change and, according to US officials, India’s recent human rights record.
Under Modi, India has made growing use of anti-terrorism legislation and "sedition" laws to arrest people.
Critics say that is aimed at silencing dissent. The government denies this.
The Hindu nationalist government has also brought in legislation that detractors say discriminates against India’s 170-million-strong Muslim minority.
Modi insists all Indians have equal rights.
Blinken told Indian civil society groups on Wednesday before his talks with Modi that the world’s two biggest democracies were united in shared values such as rule of law and freedom of religion.
"These are fundamental tenets of democracy like ours and our purpose is to give real meaning to these words and constantly renew our commitment to these ideals. And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress. As friends, we talk about that," he said.
"As I said before, sometimes that process is painful. Sometimes it’s ugly. But the strength of democracy is to embrace it."