US wants ‘more active’ India in Afghanistan

By AFP
Published: June 5, 2012
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Over the last 10 years, India has not played a particularly active role in Afghanistan, says US official. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Over the last 10 years, India has not played a particularly active role in Afghanistan, says US official. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

NEW DELHI: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will encourage India to play a “more active role” in Afghanistan during a visit to New Delhi, US officials said Tuesday.

Washington has previously worried about India antagonising its arch-foe Pakistan and preferred New Delhi retain a modest profile in the Afghan conflict restricted to troop training and infrastructure development.

But officials briefing reporters before Panetta landed in New Delhi Tuesday said US policy has evolved as the Nato-led force prepares to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.

“Over the last 10 years, for a variety of reasons, India has not played a particularly active role in Afghanistan,” a senior defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters aboard Panetta’s plane.

“We welcome India playing a more active role in Afghanistan, a more active political and economic role,” the official said.

Panetta was due to discuss the issue, as well as a new US strategic tilt towards Asia, when he meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon on Tuesday afternoon, before giving a policy speech on Wednesday, officials said.

The United States hoped India would expand its training of Afghan security forces, the defence official said.

India has “trained army and police before but on a relatively small scale”, the official said. “We welcome India playing a more active role.”

In October, India and Afghanistan signed a “strategic partnership” deal aiming at deepening their security and economic links, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai also keen to elevate India’s role.

New Delhi, fearful of the return of an Islamist regime in Kabul, has ploughed about $2.0 billion of aid into the country to gain influence, but is extremely wary of over-stepping.

The US official acknowledged the hostility and distrust between India and Pakistan, but said both countries had a common interest in seeing peace take root in Afghanistan.

“Of course there is a risk that the tensions and historical mistrust between India and Pakistan could lead them to view their respective roles in Afghanistan as being in conflict,” he said.

“This is not predestined. This does not have to be the case.”

Shashank Joshi, an expert on South Asia security and an associate fellow at the London-based think-tank Royal United Services Institute, said the Indians are afraid of what will happen once Nato combat troops pull of Afghanistan in 2014.

“They are convinced the Afghan state is more brittle than the Americans and the British think and fear they will end up picking up the pieces with the jihadis heading east and their interests in danger,” he told AFP.

India’s ambassador to Washington last week called for greater coordination with the United States on Afghanistan in a sign of New Delhi’s unease about the future.

The suggestion India bolster its presence in Afghanistan might be an attempt by Washington to press Pakistan to open its border to Nato supply convoys, which Islamabad has blocked since a US air strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The United States has been pushing Pakistan to reopen the vital supply routes and has had to rely on a more costly, cumbersome route to the north through Central Asia.

Any enhanced role for India would alarm Islamabad, which views New Delhi’s activities in Afghanistan with deep suspicion, fearing India could effectively encircle Pakistan through its proxies.

Analysts say Pakistan’s intelligence service cultivates links with insurgent groups in Afghanistan as a hedge to counter India’s influence.

The US official said Washington expected regional countries, including India and Pakistan, to step up their role in Afghanistan as Nato withdraws over the next two years.

Apart from the war in Afghanistan, Panetta’s talks with Indian leaders are expected to touch on America’s much-publicised “rebalance” towards Asia, expanding defence ties with India, officials said.

In President Barack Obama’s new strategy blueprint unveiled in January, India is the only country mentioned by name as a vital partner.

US officials say the two countries share democratic traditions and similar concerns about China’s stance as well as the threat posed by Islamic extremists in South Asia.

But both countries have been disappointed about a lack of progress on defence trade and other fronts.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    Jun 5, 2012 - 4:12PM

    India and US both signing up strategic pacts with Afghanistan tells it all. Geographically India is much better placed than Americans to deal with Afghanistan. Even Russians and Chinese should have no problem with Indian role in stabilizing Afghanistan. I am pretty sure even Indians and Chinese will collaborate in Afghanistan purely for economic reasons. Recommend

  • SalSal
    Jun 5, 2012 - 4:35PM

    There u go they have finally blurted it out of their mouth. And then they expect Pakistan to listen to them. That is quite unwise of them to do this. After all they are proving the army correct

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  • Ali khan
    Jun 5, 2012 - 4:58PM

    Hahahaha, nice move but a shallow one :)

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  • captain niatpac
    Jun 5, 2012 - 6:52PM

    When they dont want Pakistan to play any positive role in affairs of Afghanistan how do they expect them to be its effective neighbor? We have a right to maintain good relations with our neighbors and shouldn’t be needing approval from any outsider..

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  • SalSal
    Jun 5, 2012 - 7:00PM

    India doesn’t even have borders with Afghanistan. America should stop acting like gods. This pride of their will surely take them down one day

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  • gautamsehgal
    Jun 7, 2012 - 1:58PM

    @SalSal:
    Do US has border with any european or Asian country??? still he is ultra active all over the world. Grow up these days land borders makes no big differences till the time you have influence in the region or across globe..

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  • Are u kidding
    Jun 7, 2012 - 2:20PM

    @SalSal:
    Good, stick to the correctness of the army. All is well.

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jun 7, 2012 - 2:51PM

    After seeing what a mess u have made of Afghanistan and Pakistan do us a favor and leave India out of it we have enough problems of our own .

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  • antanu g
    Jun 7, 2012 - 4:51PM

    Its no secret….US wants to run away from Afghanistan and leave behind its dirty work for India.Old policy of US.

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  • Zillur Rahman
    Jun 9, 2012 - 2:21AM

    Pashtuns, like the Kurds, remain divided across international boundaries. This is the single fundamental cause of instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We need a new country for the Pashtuns that will overturn the monstrosity of the Durand line – a line drawn across the land of the Pashtuns by British imperialists.

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jun 9, 2012 - 5:53AM

    @Zillur Rahman: U r probably right but that will not happen easily too many egos are involved.

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  • Paindu
    Jun 29, 2012 - 4:49AM

    @Zillur Rahman: Zillur Rehman Or Hindu Terrorist? Oh My GAWD.. You Indians have such a greta imagination that even a Kid can catch you. Well, before talking about divided pashtoons Let’s talk about Divided Kashmiris that your Hindu terrorist army has been slaughtering in thousands. let’s talk about that first and later we can talk about anything else. When are you going to give them what they want i.e. Independence? Show us change in your Behavior and then we can talk about other issues. By the way, Do include on that list Arunachal Pradesh which is Chinese territory and people are divided there too. Return it to them as well. And perhaps Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram put on the list as well where there peope are divided on both sides. Indian Regime must think granting them independence so that divided people can unite. Let’s do that first and when you will do it, then come back and we will talk OK ?

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