Blinken Questioned About Cooperation With India on 'Over-the-Horizon Forces'
While India and the US have a mutual logistics sharing pact, in place since 2017, New Delhi has been wary of basing American troops and aircraft on its territory. The India-US Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) allows warships and aircraft to refuel and replenish at each other's bases.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Washington was "deeply engaged with India across the board". The moment came during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about whether the Biden administration was in talks with New Delhi to stage "over the horizon" operations.
"Considering rumours of ISI's (Inter-Services Intelligence) support for the Taliban*, have you guys reached out to India as a possible staging area for the over-the-horizon forces? I'm talking about northwest India as a potential because we all know Qatar and Doha, the other places, are just a little bit too far", asked Congressman Mark Green (R-TN).
While Blinken did admit being in touch with his Indian counterparts "across the board", he refused to spell out the specific details.
"With regard, though, to any specifics about over the rise in capabilities and the plans that we put in place and will continue to put in place, I'd rather take that up in a different setting", the top US diplomat said.
Blinken's remarks come ahead of a two-day visit (24-25 September) by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US, where he will be attending the first-ever "Quad" Leaders' Summit and hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden, among other official engagements.
US Lawmakers Slam Pakistan
The congressional hearing also witnessed lawmakers questioning Blinken about Pakistan's "duplicitous role" in the "War on Terror".
Democrat Bill Keating claimed that Islamabad has simultaneously helped the Taliban in fighting US forces, while also assisting Washington in counter-terror operations.
"I would say that we should no longer pay Pakistan and we should pay India", proposed Scott Perry, a lawmaker from Pennsylvania.
Blinken responded to these questions by assuring the House Committee members that, going forward, Pakistan will have to "make good" on the expectations that the international community has from the Taliban-led regime.
Blinken reiterated his list of demands for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan — ensuring freedom of travel and safe passage for Afghans and foreigners wanting to leave the nation, not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for "outward directed terrorism", forming a more inclusive government, to allow humanitarian aid into the country, and upholding the rights of women, girls, and minorities — as preconditions before the US and its partners would move towards recognising the recently unveiled cabinet in Kabul.
"Pakistan needs to line up with the rest of the — with the broad majority of the international community in working towards those ends and in upholding those expectations", the top US diplomat remarked.
Pakistan has called upon the international community to engage with the Taliban as well as "discard old lenses" in judging the new Taliban government.
Pakistan has consistently fended off allegations of supporting the Taliban in America's War on Terror, instead portraying itself as a victim for the past two decades. Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an interview in July: "70,000 Pakistanis died in a war we had nothing to do with. We had more than [a] $150 billion loss to our economy".
*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other nations.