All help, but no troops to Afghanistan

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis at the South Block in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis at the South Block in New Delhi on Tuesday.

India on Tuesday ruled out deploying troops in Afghanistan even as it pledged to expand development and medical assistance for the strife-torn nation.

“We have made it very clear that there shall not be boots from India on the ground,” Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in response to questions on the issue, at a press conference she addressed along with her U.S. counterpart James Mattis.

The U.S. Defence Secretary is in New Delhi for the first Cabinet-level visit from the Trump administration.

“Indian contribution to Afghanistan has been for a very long time and has been consistently on developmental issues... Medical assistance is also provided by India... So India’s contribution has been on these grounds, and we shall expand if necessary,” Ms. Sitharaman added.

Scotches speculation

The Defence Minister’s statement puts to rest speculation about India deploying troops in Afghanistan after U.S. President Donald Trump called for greater Indian involvement. India has already extended $3 billion aid to Afghanistan, provides security assistance in the form of training and has also supplied some utility and attack helicopters.

Kabul has repeatedly sought lethal weapons and ammunition from India.


In their press statements after the talks, the two leaders also resolved to eradicate terrorist safe havens across the globe.

“There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens. As global leaders, India and the U.S. resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge,” Mr. Mattis said, but made no direct reference to Pakistan.

The visit of Mr. Mattis is the first from a senior Cabinet member of the Trump administration; for Ms. Sitharaman, it was the first ministerial engagement with a counterpart since she took charge of South Block.

Maritime engagements

With increasing Chinese presence in the region, Mr. Mattis said expanding “maritime engagements” was one of his top priorities.

He said India had a “vital role to play in supporting South East Asia’s regional institutions, particularly ASEAN, and in building partner capacity across the region.”

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Both sides reiterated their support for “freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce” in the Indian Ocean and broader Asia-Pacific Region.

“We also believe that disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law,” Ms. Sitharaman said, in an apparent reference to China.

Stating that the recent Malabar trilateral naval exercises demonstrated the progress made in “operational synergies” between the navies, Ms. Sitharaman said, “In our talks today, we agreed to explore additional, specialised exercises.”

This visit was largely a familiarisation trip for Mr. Mattis and also a chance for the leaders to know each other. Later in the day, Mr. Mattis held discussions with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

Mr. Mattis called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the afternoon. “The Prime Minister recalled his wide-ranging, candid, and fruitful discussions with President Trump during his visit to the United States in June this year,” a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said.

He briefed the Prime Minister on the progress in advancing the bilateral agenda and implementing the decisions taken during that visit, the statement said.

“They also discussed enhanced cooperation, regionally and globally, in pursuing shared priorities for peace, stability and combating terrorism. The Prime Minister appreciated the close engagement between the two countries on regional and global issues of mutual concern,” it said.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2022 3:06:06 am |