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India Rules Out Sending Troops To Afghanistan But Will Continue With Development Work

NEW DELHI: India will continue with the development projects in Afghanistan to help stabilize the war-torn country but will not send its troops there, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday.

“There shall not be any boots on the ground from India,” Ms. Sitharaman said while speaking to reporters after delegation level talks with the visiting U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis.

As President Donald Trump had called for greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan, speculation has been rife about the possibility of India deploying its troops in Kabul.

India had 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,’’ Mrs. Sitharaman said in her media statement.

The two Defence Ministers also resolved to eradicate terrorist safe havens across the globe. “There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens. As global leaders, India and the US resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge,” Mr. Mattis said in his statement.

Extending a warm welcome to the U.S. Defence Secretary, Mrs. Sitharaman said that Mr. Mattis was  a special visitor for her personally as he happens to be  the first Ministerial counterpart she has  met since taking over as the country’s new Defence Minister, the first woman to be whole time in charge of the ministry. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had held the Defence portfolio as additional charge.

Describing her talks with Mr. Mattis as ``very substantive, constructive and forward-looking,’’ she said that India and the U.S.  share a strong and vibrant strategic partnership.

Noting that defence cooperation between India and the US has grown significantly in recent years and emerged as a key pillar of the strategic partnership, Mrs. Sitharaman said ``our military-to-military engagement continues to grow.’’

“Cooperation in defence equipment has grown steadily over the past years. The US is now a leading supplier of state-of-the-art defence equipment to India. I appreciated Secretary Mattis' willingness to share further cutting-edge platforms which would enhance India's defence preparedness to meet current and emerging threats,’’ she said in a media statement.

The two Defence Ministers agreed agreed on the need to expand on the progress already made by encouraging co-production and co-development efforts. Mrs. Sithraman  reiterated India's deep interest in enhancing defence manufacturing in India under Prime Minister's Make in India initiative.

“In this context, we agreed that the full implementation of the understanding reached following the announcement by the US last year recognizing India as a Major Defence Partner will provide further energy and momentum to our collaboration on defence technology and manufacturing.

“We also discussed how to refocus and re-energize the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) as a mechanism to promote technology sharing as well as co­ development and co-production efforts,’’ the media statement said.

Both Mr. Mattis and Ms. Sitharaman also exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest and held extensive discussions on the situation in India’s neighbourhood and the growing menace of cross-border terrorism were discussed in depth.

“We both recognize the importance of holding those who use terrorism as an instrument of state policy to account and to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terrorism,’’ she said.

The two Defence Ministers also discussed the issues relating to maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the broader Asia-Pacific Region as well as regional connectivity issues. India supports the freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce. Mrs. Sitharaman welcomed her US counterpart’s reiteration of the US commitment to work with India in ensuring maritime security in the lndo Pacific and as first responder to HADR situations.

Mrs. Sitharaman expressed confidence that India was entering a new phase in its  strategic defence partnership with the United States. Mr. Mattis is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

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