M A I N   N E W S

US to seek firm commitment from India on Afghanistan
Defence Secy for increased Indian engagement in trouble-torn country
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, June 5
Visiting US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to ask India to increase its engagement in Afghanistan to bring about peace there, especially after 2014 when the international forces start to withdraw from the country.

In the past one week, the US has indicated it will have an ‘enduring presence’ in the country after 2014. However, it has not spelt out the force levels or other details. Over the next 24 hours, Washington is expected to extend a hand to New Delhi, seeking a firm commitment on Afghanistan.

For India, it will be a tough call to take. New Delhi has no intention of putting its troops on the ground in Afghanistan but is comfortable in its existing role of training the Afghan National Army as also the police forces besides leading infrastructure development for which $ 2 billion has been pledged.

Panetta arrived here this afternoon and called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the evening at his residence. The Indian officials termed his visit as a “courtesy call”. He will meet Defence Minister AK Antony tomorrow for 45 minutes, which is the ‘business part’ of his visit. “Ongoing defence cooperation and regional security situation will figure prominently during discussions,” the Indian Defence Ministry said tonight.

One of the long-term thinking of the US is to ask Pakistan and India to “harmonize their approaches” towards Afghanistan even as it fears that Indo-Pak rivalry could trigger a race to influence Afghanistan post-2014. In October, India and Afghanistan signed a wide-ranging agreement to deepen ties. The agreement included training to Afghan security forces by the Indian Army, which angered Pakistan. Panetta, a former Director of the Central Investigative Agency (CIA), has arrived in India just a week ahead of the India-US strategic dialogue, which will be held in Washington on June 13. Importantly for India, he has come at a time when the United States has announced a major policy shift and has swung eastwards which is being seen as a “China centric policy”.

Much to the chagrin of China, the US has announced the shifting of its naval assets to strengthen the Pacific Area Command (PACOM). Under the United States’ scheme of things, Pacific Area Command jurisdiction includes countries like India. The new plan will include stationing of 60 per cent of the United States’ Naval fleet under Pacific Area Command by 2020. So far the assets have been divided 50:50 between Pacific Area Command and the Central Command. The United States terms this as a ‘re-balancing’act.

Some six sea-borne aircraft carriers, a majority of cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines will be stationed under Pacific Area Command. China does not have single aircraft carrier but has nuclear submarines.

Beijing has termed the United States decision to shift the bulk of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as "untimely".

The United States is also keen to get a bigger slice of India's defence acquisitions, and is negotiating to sell it about two dozen Apache attack helicopters along with other weapons.

visit ahead of strategic dialogue

Leon Panetta has arrived in India a week ahead of the India-US strategic dialogue, which will be held in Washington on June 13. He has come at a time when the US has announced a major policy shift which is being seen as a “China centric policy”.

A tough call

For India, it will be a tough call to take. New Delhi has no intention of putting its troops on the ground in Afghanistan

mortal remains of us soldiers

Panetta requested Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to allow resumption of the mission for the recovery of the mortal remains of the United States’ military personnel who died in air crashes during the World War II in the north-eastern part of India. Official sources said India has agreed to the request. Earlier, such attempts to recover the mortal remains of US military personnel were made in 2010. During the war, several US planes had crashed in the high mountains of Arunachal Pradesh while trying to cross over from China into India. Panetta also discussed the regional security situation, including the proposed moves in Afghanistan. The American official also briefed the Prime Minister about the recent “rebalancing” of its naval assets towards Asia-Pacific.





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