India has turned down the US demand to deploy Indian armed forces in Afghanistan, said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“There shall not be any (Indian) boots on ground in Afghanistan,” Sitharaman said here on Tuesday after her meeting with US Defence Secretary James Mattis.
She, however, maintained that India’s development efforts in the war-torn region will continue, on which she had “useful discussions” with Secretary Mattis to ensure a “peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous” Afghanistan.
“As you are aware, India welcomed President Trump’s new US Strategy for Afghanistan announced last month. Today, I had useful discussions with Secretary Mattis on how we could strengthen our cooperation bilaterally as well as with the Government of Afghanistan in pursuit of our common objective of a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan,” Sitharaman said.
India had come under severe pressure from the Trump administration to send troops to the war-torn country to fight the Taliban. Though India has supplied arms to the Afghan government, it has refused to deploy its military personnel there.
The issue was discussed at length during an hour-long meeting between both the ministers. Mattis is believed to have urged Sitharaman that India’s role in Afghanistan has to go “beyond” just development assistance and that it has to “assist” US in its counter-terrorism efforts by sending troops there, sources told BusinessLine .
Interestingly, Mattis’ visit comes at a time when US President Donald Trump has just announced his Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) policy. “We applaud India’s invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security,” Mattis said.
India has told the US clearly that it will not be sending its troops, while it has committed in doubling its efforts on the economic front. India has earlier said that it welcomes America’s policy on Afghanistan.
The matter had also come up for discussion during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US earlier this year in June when he held his first bilateral meeting with Trump in Washington.
Maritime security Sitharaman said she discussed in detail the issues relating to maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the broader Asia-Pacific Region as well as regional connectivity issues. The US had been seeking greater participation from India in this issue in order to counter China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea.
“India supports the freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce. We also believe that disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law,” Sitharaman said.
According to Mattis, maritime engagements with India are one of his top priorities. Referring to the annual Malabar Naval Exercise, Mattis said it is an important mechanism to develop shared understanding of the challenges.
“We also discussed how to refocus and re-energise the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) as a mechanism to promote technology sharing as well as co development and co-production efforts,” Sitharaman said.
Highlighting India’s recognition as one of US’ ‘Major Defence Partner’, Mattis said US looked forward to sharing some of its “most advanced defence technologies” with India through the DTTI.
“Cooperation in this area will improve the capabilities of both our militaries and reinforce the foundation for an enduring partnership,” he said.
Sources said while both sides discussed the $2-billion Sea Guardian drone deal, nothing concrete emerged from the discussions.