DEFENCE MINISTER OFFERS NEW SUPPORT INSTEAD
INDIA will not deploy troops in Afghanistan, its defence minister said on Tuesday (26), but promised to boost support for a new US strategy in the war-torn country.
After talks with US defence secretary Jim Mattis, Nirmala Sitharaman said India was prepared to increase training for Afghan personnel and develop infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
“India’s contribution has been on these counts and we shall expand if necessary,” she told a news conference with Mattis. “However, as we have made it very clear, there should not be boots from India on the ground.”
Mattis’ trip to India is the first by any member of US president Donald Trump’s cabinet. It comes just after Trump unveiled a new Afghanistan strategy and urged New Delhi to help.
“We applaud India’s invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security,” Mattis said.
India has long vied with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled country. Last year it offered some $1 billion in aid.
It has also trained more than 4,000 Afghan National Army officers and provided helicopters to the Afghan Air Force.
Unveiling his Afghanistan policy last month, Trump angered Pakistan by saying it offered a safe haven to “agents of chaos”.
“There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens,” Mattis said on Tuesday, without naming Pakistan. “As global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge.”
The two sides will also discuss Lockheed Martin’s offer to build F-16 fighter planes in India as part of prime minister Narendra Modi’s drive to build a domestic military industrial base. “We look forward to sharing some of our most advanced defence technologies,” Mattis said.
Defence ties between India and the United States have expanded rapidly, with New Delhi buying US weapons worth $15 billion over the last decade, moving away from traditional supplier Russia.
Military experts say US weapons transfers aim at bolstering Indian capabilities to develop a counterweight against China’s growing assertiveness in recent years.
Indian and US negotiators are now trying to move forward with a deal to supply the Indian navy with 22 Sea Guardian drone aircraft, whose June approval by the US government was the first such clearance to a non- NATO ally.
India wants the unarmed drones to help its navy lengthen the duration of its surveillance in the Indian Ocean, where Chinese naval ships and submarines make regular forays.
Expanding naval cooperation with India was a top priority, Mattis said, adding that three-way exercises involving the United States, India and Japan boosted operation-al cooperation.
The United States has been critical of China’s build-up of military facilities in the South China Sea. But New Delhi turned down a US suggestion of regional joint patrols with the Indian navy, for fear of a Chinese backlash. (AFP, Reuters)