June 15, 2012

America persuades India to expand Afghan footprint



Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN | Jun 14, 2012, 08.25PM IST




India and the United States on Wednesday pledged to hold a regular trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, signaling a long-term commitment to stability in the war-ravaged country in the face of Pakistan's depredations.


WASHINGTON: India and the United States on Wednesday pledged to hold a regular trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, signaling a long-term commitment to stability in the war-ravaged country in the face of Pakistan's depredations. The forceful pledge, buried deep in a 13-page joint U.S-India statement of some 4200 words, signals an expanded Indian footprint amid a diminishing American military intervention in Afghanistan, and outflanks Pakistan, which is seen as a spoiler in the region. 

The broadening Indian involvement includes training greater number of Afghan military personnel, but no major induction of Indian troops in Afghanistan. India External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna told journalists at a press conference at the conclusion of the U.S-India Strategic dialogue that the trilateral confabulations would cover a "whole gamut of issues hovering around Afghanistan" including security matters and "building up capacity"to ensure Afghanistan's peace and security. 

Asked if that involved Indian military training of Afghan troops, Krishna guardedly said, "We have been giving training for security forces of Afghanistan. It has been India's approach that they should be self-reliant to defend their frontiers, boundaries and their sovereignty." 

"India would be willing to cooperate with other nations in order to make Afghanistan realize that it has to deal with terrorist forces which are constantly attacking it. It is necessary to strengthen the Afghan efforts, but India's position is it has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned," he added. India is said to train a limited number of Afghan officers at its military academies but that program could now expand to meet U.S plans for an strengthened Afghan National Army to meet the challenges ahead. 

The remarks, and the institutionalization of a trilateral dialogue at the expense of Pakistan, which as an immediate neighbor of Afghanistan claims a lead role in its affairs, points to deeper U.S-backed Indian involvement in stabilizing Afghanistan at the persuasion of the Obama administration, a far cry from the days when Washington restrained India from military involvement because of Pakistan's sensitivities. 

While Krishna refrained from naming Pakistan as the trouble-maker in his news conference, the U.S-India joint statement left little to doubt on this front. "They (Hillary Clinton and Krishna) reiterated that success in Afghanistan and regional and global security require elimination of safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the statement noted. 

However, both sides left the door open for Islamabad to come around in a cooperative mode, noting that Pakistan, along with China, was an invitee to the Afghanistan investment summit in New Delhi late June. "I told Minister Krishna how much we appreciate India's efforts in Afghanistan and the region and how much we are looking forward to the investment conference that India will host later this month in New Delhi," Secretary Clinton observed on her part, signing off on U.S approval of the growing Indian role.
In fact, bilateral issues aside, the strategic dialogue broadly served to demonstrate growing U.S outsourcing of an expanded influence and role for India in keeping with its rise. 

"The United States and India have a shared vision for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific region and are committed to work together, and with others in the region, for the evolution of an open, balanced and inclusive architecture," the joint statement noted, adding, "Secretary Clinton welcomed India's growing engagement in the Asia Pacific."

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