India today ruled out any troop contribution in Afghanistan and said it will continue to provide development assistance to the war-torn country. This was stated by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman after her talks with her US counterpart James Mattis during which they discussed key bilateral, regional and international issues, including terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Amid the rising tensions due to the recent missile tests by North Korea and growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, the two sides also deliberated upon ways to deepen maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Referring to their discussion on Afghanistan, Sitharaman said they had a useful interaction on how the two countries could strengthen cooperation bilaterally as well as with the Afghan government in pursuit of the common objective of a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. She said India has built dams, hospitals and it will continue providing development assistance to the war-torn country. “We give them facilities in our hospitals both for those who are wounded on field and for civilians. Those assistances for medical help will continue…We shall expand if necessary. However, of course, we have made it clear that there shall not be boots from India on the ground,” she said. Sitharaman made the remarks while replying to a question during a joint press briefing with Mattis on whether India will contribute troops in Afghanistan. India’s position assumes significance given that under the new Trump policy, the US wants greater participation by India to contribute more in the war-torn nation.
On his part, Mattis said, “we applaud India’s invaluable contribution to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote its democracy, stability and security.” Referring to India’s concerns over cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, Sitharaman said the issue was discussed “in depth”. “The situation in our neighbourhood and the growing menace of cross-border terrorism were discussed in depth. There is a growing convergence in the approaches of both our countries on this issue,” she said. The Defence Minister said she has also urged Mattis to take up the issue of terrorism whenever he visits Pakistan. She said both sides recognise the importance of holding those who use terrorism as an instrument of state policy to account and to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terrorism.
On his part, Mattis said there can be “no tolerance to terrorism safe havens”. “Our two countries recognise the stress the global terrorism poses to people throughout the world. There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens. As global leaders, India and the US resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge,” Mattis said. Contending that defence partnership is one of the “key strategic pillars” between India and US, the two sides also focused on sharing cutting-edge technologies and platforms and exploring additional specialised military drills between the two countries. “In this context, we agreed that the full implementation of the understanding reached following the announcement by the US last year recognising India as a Major Defence Partner will provide further energy and momentum to our collaboration on defence technology and manufacturing,” Sitharaman said.
Mattis said India and the US are two “strategic partners” and their defence cooperation has steadily expanded in recent years underpinned by a strategic convergence between the two countries based on common objectives and goals in the region. “This cooperation will benefit both economies by reducing trust issues between our two democracies,” he said but did not elaborate on the nature of the issues. The armies of the two countries are currently participating in the joint military drill Yudh Abyas 2017 and the navies recently concluded the 2017 edition of Malabar, a trilateral exercise between India, the US and Japan.