NEW DELHI — In meetings with the prime minister and national security adviser, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stressed the importance of a partnership with India both for ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and for the United States’ new focus on security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Panetta arrived in India on Tuesday afternoon after meeting with Vietnamese military leaders in Hanoi.
“Secretary Panetta underscored the link India plays between East and West Asia and how the United States views India as a net provider of security from the Indian Ocean to Afghanistan and beyond,” acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little said.
After meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on Tuesday, Panetta will visit with the Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony on Wednesday and deliver a policy speech at India’s oldest think tank.
Economic development has been the main thrust of India’s role in Afghanistan, with an investment of about $2 billion, defense officials said Tuesday.
The Pentagon welcomes increased economic development, and, while the U.S. “doesn’t necessarily envision a role of the Indian military in Afghanistan,” the Indian military police could provide training for Afghan forces as they move forward, a senior defense official speaking on background said.
The relationship between India and the United States has improved and expanded dramatically since 2001, when the U.S. lifted economic sanctions it had placed on India in 1998 for performing underground nuclear tests. For example, the U.S. has sold about $8.5 billion worth of military arms to India in the last 11 years, according to defense officials, and the American military now performs several joint military exercises with India.
In Tuesday’s meetings, Little said, Panetta discussed the nations’ shared interests, particularly in the Pacific and reiterated the need for increased teamwork with India, “the only country specifically mentioned as a key partner in the Department’s Strategic Guidance issued earlier this year.”
The Pentagon also hopes India and Pakistan will work together more closely on the shared goal of a peaceful, stable Afghanistan.
“There are historical tensions and a lack of trust between India and Pakistan,” the official said, but they have taken steps to repair that relationship and both have legitimate interests in Afghanistan’s future,” the senior defense official said. “Pakistan has nothing to fear with India playing a more constructive role in Afghanistan.”