Presence of terror safe havens in Pakistan, aggressive Chinese behaviour and the Afghanistan situation dominated last month’s meeting between US Defence Secretary Gen (retd) James Mattis and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, according to an American defence official. “They talked a lot about China…the concern about China sometimes bullying some of its neighbours in the region. There was concern about that,” a US defence official told PTI about the Mattis-Doval meeting at the Pentagon on March 24.
This was the highest-level interaction of Mattis with a top Indian official after becoming the Defence Secretary. China is also very important to the US with regard to the North Korea situation, said the defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Pakistan and Afghanistan were the two major topics of discussion between the two leaders, the official said.
“They talked about Pakistan,” the official said, adding that Doval “talked more” on the issue than Mattis. “There was not a whole lot specifics. We have a number of concerns with respect to Pakistan…counter-terrorism, nuclear weapons. They talked a little bit about that. It is obviously a concern of India’s and it is an important player in the region and the world,” the defence official said.
The US would like to see Pakistan in a situation with it where they can have a productive relationship, the official said. “They talked a lot about Afghanistan…and the need to try to get it…just finish it (the war). It has been going on (for) too long,” the defence official said. The official explained that this meant “finish the operations and leave (Afghanistan) in a stable state”. While successive US administrations have praised India’s developmental assistance in Afghanistan, some recent media reports both in India and the US have referred to Trump Administration’s desire of enhanced military role of India in the war-torn country.
The official said he “did not recall” any such conversation during the Pentagon meeting. Reflecting on the meeting, the official said the Defence Secretary is “very keen on India”. Mattis “recognises the important role that it plays in the region and the world and It’s unique position vis-a-vis Pakistan, vis-a-vis China,” said the defence official. Secretary Mattis wants to have a solid defence relationship with India, the official said.
The Secretary was interested in listening from the NSA what India’s perspective was on most of these issues, both regional and global. “I think, the NSA probably did most of the talking. It bodes well for the future. I think, he (Mattis) wants to have a solid defence relationship with India,” the official said in response to a question.
Doval made a quite visit to the United States for a few days around March 20, during which he also met the Homeland Security Secretary Gen (retd) John Kelly and US National Security Advisor Lt Gen H R McMaster.