India has made it clear to the US that it will not contribute combat troops towards stabilizing and securing Afghanistan but will further crank up its ongoing security, economic and developmental assistance to the war-torn country battling a resurgent Taliban backed by Pakistan.
Though President Donald Trump has called upon India to play a greater role in Afghanistan, in a policy shift that has riled Pakistan, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in the presence of her visiting US counterpart James Mattis on Friday that there “shall not be any boots from India on the ground in Afghanistan”.
Sitharaman also pointedly raised with Mattis, the first cabinet-rank minister to visit India after the Trump administration took charge of the White House in January, the entire issue of continuing US military aid to Pakistan despite it providing “safe havens” to terror groups targeting both India and Afghanistan. “The very same forces that find safe havens in Pakistan hit New York and Mumbai. I have requested the US secretary of defence to take this up when he visits Pakistan,” she said.
Mattis, who later met PM Narendra Modi and national security advisor Ajit Doval, asserted “there can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens anywhere” but did not specifically name Pakistan in this regard. India and the US, both of whom has suffered “grievous losses” due to terrorism, have resolved to work together to “eradicate this scourge”, he added.
India and the US, in the delegation-level talks, also decided to further deepen their strategic partnership by stepping-up defence cooperation, combat exercises, co-development and production of cutting-edge weapon systems, and maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean region and beyond.
Confronted with an aggressive and expansionist China in the Asia Pacific region, especially in the contentious South China Sea, the two countries reiterated the critical importance of freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce in the global commons. “Disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law,” said Sitharaman.
Afghanistan, of course, figured high on the agenda. Apart from the around $3 billion worth of developmental assistance to build dams, highways, hospitals, schools and the like till now, India has helped “capacity-building” of the Afghan National Army by training over 5,000 personnel and supplying small arms and four Mi-25 attack helicopters.
This security assistance is going to be further increased, with India examining an Afghan military equipment wishlist ranging from 105mm artillery guns and armoured vehicles to utility helicopters and communication equipment.
India is obviously worried about the stability of the strategically-located Afghanistan amid the advances made by the Taliban and its deadly arms like the Haqqani network, which have long worked in league with the Pakistan Army against Indian interests.
Stressing the “strategic convergence” between India and the US based on common objectives and goals in the region, Mattis welcomed India’s “invaluable contributions” and “further efforts” to promote “democracy, stability and security” in Afghanistan.
He also “appreciated” efforts by India and others to “increase pressure” against North Korea over its “dangerous and destabilizing behavior” after testing a possible thermo-nuclear or hydrogen bomb earlier this month. “We maintain the capability to deter North Korea’s most dangerous threats…But as far as possible, our goal is to solve it in the diplomatic realm,” he said.
India, of course, remains deeply concerned about the continuing quid pro quo between Pakistan and North Korea in terms of nuclear and missile proliferation, which has been encouraged by China over the years, as was reported by TOI earlier.